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Volvo’s Polestar begins production of the all-electric Polestar 2 in China

Posted by | Android, automotive, cars, China, coronavirus, COVID-19, electric vehicles, Europe, Ford, Geely, GM, Google Assistant, Google Play Store, Google-Maps, linux, Los Angeles, Lucid Motors, north america, operating system, Oslo, Polestar, Rivian, shanghai, smartphones, TC, Tesla, volkswagen, Volvo Cars | No Comments

Polestar has started production of its all-electric Polestar 2 vehicle at a plant in China amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has upended the automotive industry and triggered a wave of factory closures throughout the world.

The start of Polestar 2 production is a milestone for Volvo Car Group’s standalone electric performance brand  — and not just because it began in the midst of global upheaval caused by COVID-19, a disease that stems from the coronavirus. It’s also the first all-electric car under a brand that was relaunched just three years ago with a new mission.

Polestar was once a high-performance brand under Volvo Cars. In 2017, the company was recast as an electric performance brand aimed at producing exciting and fun-to-drive electric vehicles — a niche that Tesla was the first to fill and has dominated ever since. Polestar is jointly owned by Volvo Car Group and Zhejiang Geely Holding of China. Volvo was acquired by Geely in 2010.

COVID-19 has affected how Polestar and its parent company operate. Factory closures began in China, where the disease first swept through the population. Now Chinese factories are reopening as the epicenter of COVID-19 moves to Europe and North America. Most automakers have suspended production in Europe and North America.

Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath said the company started production under these challenging circumstances with a strong focus on the health and safety of its workers. He added that the Luqiao, China factory is an example of how Polestar has leveraged the expertise of its parent companies.

Extra precautions have been taken because of the outbreak, including frequent disinfecting of work spaces and requiring workers to wear masks and undergo regular temperature screenings, according to the company. Polestar has said that none of its workers in China tested positive for COVID-19 as a result of its efforts.

COVID-19 has also affected Polestar’s timeline. Polestar will only sell its vehicles online and will offer customers subscriptions to the vehicle. It previously revealed plans to open “Polestar Spaces,” a showroom where customers can interact with the product and schedule test drives. These spaces will be standalone facilities and not within existing Volvo retailer showrooms. Polestar had planned to have 60 of these spaces open by 2020, including in Oslo, Los Angeles and Shanghai.

COVID-19 has delayed the opening of the showrooms. The company will have some pop-up stores opening as soon as that situation improves, so people can go see the cars and learn more while the permanent showrooms are still under construction, TechCrunch has learned.

It’s not clear just how many Polestar 2 vehicles will be produced; Polestar has told TechCrunch that it is in the “tens of thousands” of cars per calendar year. Those numbers will also depend on demand for the Polestar 2 and other models that are built in the same factory.

Polestar 2 EV

Image Credits: Screenshot/Polestar

Polestar also isn’t providing the exact number of reservations until it begins deliveries, which are supposed to start this summer in Europe, followed by China and North America. It was confirmed to TechCrunch that reservations are in the “five digits.”

The Polestar 2, which was first revealed in February 2019, has been positioned by the company to go up against Tesla Model 3. (The company’s first vehicle, the Polestar 1, is a plug-in hybrid with two electrical motors powered by three 34-kilowatt-hour battery packs and a turbo and supercharged gas inline 4 up front.)

But it will likely face off against other competitors launching new EVs in 2020 and 2021, including Volkswagen, GM, Ford and startups Lucid Motors and even adventure-focused Rivian.

Polestar is hoping customers are attracted to the tech and the performance of the fastback, which produces 408 horsepower, 487 pound feet of torque and has a 78 kWh battery pack that delivers an estimated range of 292 miles under Europe’s WLTP.

The Polestar 2’s infotainment system will be powered by Android OS and, as a result, bring into the car embedded Google services such as Google Assistant, Google Maps and the Google Play Store. This shouldn’t be confused with Android Auto, which is a secondary interface that lies on top of an operating system. Android OS is modeled after its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. But instead of running smartphones and tablets, Google modified it so it could be used in cars.

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Canoo takes the covers off of its debut electric vehicle

Posted by | Android, automotive industry, Canoo, chief technology officer, China, driver, east coast, electric vehicle, Los Angeles, michigan, Netflix, operating systems, Rivian, TC, transport, United States, vw, west coast | No Comments

The Los Angeles-based startup Canoo has finally unveiled its first model, the eponymously named canoo.

The Canoo designers have departed pretty radically from the traditional designs that other electric vehicle manufacturers have favored going with something that looks more like a VW Microbus than the sport utility vehicle that Byton is aiming for, or Tesla and Fisker’s sportscars and sedans or Rivian’s electric trucks.

Remarkably, Canoo has completed the design and engineering of its first model in just 19 months and is preparing its vehicles for production through a contract manufacturer. The first cars are slated to appear on the road by 2021, according to the company’s current leader, Ulrich Kranz.

Kranz, who initially came on board as the company’s chief technology officer, took over the day-to-day operations of Canoo after Stefan Krause, Canoo’s co-founder and chief executive, stepped away from the company in August for personal reasons, as The Verge previously reported. 

The two key features that Canoo was designing for were space and value, according to a statement from Kranz, and the first car from the company has plenty of both.

Canoo has beta cars on site at its Los Angeles headquarters where prospective partners and customers can test out the vehicles, which were made by an undisclosed contract manufacturer based in Michigan. “We will crank out a couple of cars which will be used to verify and confirm the simulations we have done so far,” says Kranz.

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Canoo has spent the past year discussing the development of its prototype vehicle with the manufacturer so the company could provide advice on how to design and develop the car.

Canoo will launch its first vehicles in the Los Angeles market and expects to not only provide its “skateboard” platform for its own vehicles, but potentially work with other customers that would put their own cabin on top of the Canoo platform, Kranz says.

The company intends to go to market with an entirely new business model by providing customers with its cars for a monthly subscription fee. That service will likely include perks like automatic vehicle registration, maintenance, insurance management and charging through a single app on a customer’s phone. The idea, the company says, is to bring convenience and afforability of a Netflix movie service to the auto industry.

The first vehicle will have enough room for seven people, with the interior space of a large sport utility vehicle in a car with the footprint of a small compact car, the company says. In the back, seats are positioned in a semicircular formation against the sides and rear of the vehicle, while the front cabin is arranged like a sofa, according to Kranz.

“Cars always have been designed to convey a certain image and emotion; however, we chose to completely rethink car design and focus on what future users will actually need. Thus, we came up with this loft-inspired vehicle,” says Richard Kim, in Charge of Design at Canoo. “When you subscribe, you think differently about a car – now the value is defined by the user benefit. We implemented the Bauhaus philosophy, which is centered around minimalism and functionality, and started with the reduction to the absolute minimal need. Next, we applied that approach to the seamless connectivity with the personal devices customers care most about – their phones.”

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Entertainment systems are dependent on customers’ own devices and the canoo is compatible with both iOS and Android operating systems. Rather than having a central display, the company expects that drivers and passengers will want to use their own navigation and apps in the vehicle.

Kranz says it was also made with autonomy in mind, and while the current system is arrayed with seven cameras, five radars and 12 ultra sonic sensors to provide level two autonomy. Kranz is especially proud of a new feature which has a video camera focused on the driver to monitor their actions and avoid unnecessary alerts when they’re operating a vehicle safely.

We watch the face and the meaning of the driver with the camera” Kranz says. “When the camera recognizes that the driver pays attention… like looking to the right side and checking blind spots, we don’t warn them with an alert… Because people sometimes turn off  the warning systems.” 

The heart of the Canoo system though, is its “skateboard” architecture, which houses the batteries and the electric drivetrain in a chassis underneath the vehicle’s cabin. All of the companies vehicles will have the same base and different cabins to create all sorts of vehicles for different applications, the company says.

The first vehicle has a five-star safety rating and includes driver and passenger airbags throughout the canoo. The skateboard platform can also support dual, front, or rear motor configurations the company said.  

Finally, the company says it will have the first truly steer-by-wire vehicle on the market without a hardware connection between the steering wheel and the wheels.

Steering is conducted by electric signals only, with a fully redundant control system that the company says has some long-term benefits for future designs. Steer-by-wire offers both weight savings and gives Canoo flexibility on where to locate the steering wheel to accommodate different designs and . driver positions.

As for range, the company’s first car has a range of 250 miles and can reach an 80% charge in less than 30 minutes. Its battery pack is fastened directly to the skateboard structure and saves more space since there’s no separate structure. The battery also is able to provide torsional rigidity and support for the vehicle since its resting directly on the chassis.

Kranz wouldn’t say how much Canoo will charge for its subscription service, but said that the company can reduce its cost because it can depreciate the vehicle’s value over a seven-to-ten year timeframe. “These savings we will be able to give back to the customer,” he said. And even with the low price, Kranz expects to make a mint with his new company. “We want to be the first EV company that makes a profit with an EV,” he says.

The rental model will help as will the company’s conservative rollout plan. Kranz says that Canoo will start offering its subscription vehicles in one geography and scale slowly from there.

“We will roll out city-by-city,” he says. “Eight to ten cities represent more than 70% of all the electric vehicle population [so] there is no need to provide our EV nationwide.”

The plan for 2021 is to launch in Los Angeles and have another eight cities account for the company’s U.S. market. That means four on the West Coast and four on the East Coast, according to Kranz.

“After the launch in the  U.S. we are considering launching the vehicle in China… There are 18 cities that represent 75% of the EV population in China,” he said.

The controlled expansion plans and modest goals for geographical reach should be a big benefit for the company, according to Kranz.

“It gives us the big advantage that we can  easily control our fleet and we are ramping up in a more conservative way and we are not bragging that we can churn out hundred thousand of cars,” he says. “We know how difficult it is to manufacture a good quality car at a high pace.”

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Rivian debuts a pull-out kitchen for its electric pickup truck

Posted by | driver, electric vehicles, Gadgets, kitchen, range rover, Rivian, tent, the north face | No Comments

Sometimes you need scrambled eggs. And with that thought, today at the Overland Expo in Flagstaff, AZ, Rivian announced a major accessory for its electric pickup: A camp kitchen. The unit slides out from the Rivian R1T’s so-called gear tunnel that lives between the bed and cab. The kitchen includes storage and a stove that’s powered by the R1T’s 180kWh battery pack.

This kitchen unit is the first significant concept Rivian has unveiled for the pickup’s unusual gear tunnel. This space provides another locked storage compartment for the pickup — but why have it all, many asked when it was revealed? And now, with this kitchen unit, Rivian is responding to the questions. It seems Rivian wants to make its vehicles the center of an ecosystem of add-ons. The company already revealed racks, vehicle-mounted tents and even a flashlight that hides in the side of the driver’s door. Expect more camping and outdoor gear as Rivian cements its brand image around adventurers.

Rivian is positioning its products for a particular lifestyle. Think Patagonia-wearing, Range Rover-driving, outdoorsy types or at least those who aspire to have that image. It’s a smart play, and so far, Rivian has stayed true to this image. All of its advertisements, social media posts, and appearances make it clear that Rivian is carefully aligning its brand image.

Trucks and SUVs are generally marketed to workman and families. TV commercials feature dusty men hauling bails of hay and women unloading groceries and closing the rear tailgate with her foot. But not Rivian.

So far Rivian has shown its products in the backwoods, running trails and sitting next to campfires. The people in the commercials are on an adventure, wearing coats by The North Face and sleeping in REI tents. With the kitchen from today’s announcements, they can pull a kitchen out of their pickup and make some coffee.

Rivian tells TechCrunch this is just a concept, but the company intends to bring this unit to production. There are likely to be other units for the gear tunnel. I, for one, would love to have a slide-out dog washing and drying station because there’s nothing worse than putting a muddy dog in a truck.

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