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Amazon aside, Zoox expects no movement on goods delivery

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Amazon aside, Zoox expects no movement on goods delivery

Nearly every autonomous driving developer envisions transporting food or other goods in its deployment plans. Despite being a subsidiary of Amazon, Zoox has only one thought: carrying passengers.

“We’re really focused on moving people around cities,” Zoox co-founder Jesse Levinson told Automotive News. Package delivery is “not in the immediate roadmap,” he said.

While they establish ride-hailing plans, competitors such as Cruise, Argo AI and Waymo all have deals to deliver groceries and other goods for Walmart. Motional will do food delivery for Uber Eats.

Zoox’s technology would work for automated delivery, but Levinson said ride-hailing offers a faster return on investment.

“People pay more to move themselves around cities than to move packages,” he said.

Zoox is running autonomous vehicle pilots in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Seattle and near its headquarters in Foster City, Calif. The company has said it plans to launch a robotaxi service in Las Vegas but hasn’t yet announced a start date.

Zoox is taking a contrarian approach that might not work, said Sam Abuelsamid, a mobility analyst at Guidehouse Insights.

“One reason everyone else is doing deliveries is that from an operational and unit-economics perspective, deliveries can be much more economically viable,” he said.

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But the cost of delivering packages can be more expensive than delivering people, according to Ashley Nunes, a fellow at Harvard Law School who studies innovation. Revenues derived from moving human passengers in human-driven ride-hailing services can reach 97 cents per mile, he said, and that’s a target that autonomous ride-hailing hopefuls want to emulate.

He cautioned that making comparisons to goods delivery can be complicated, because of fluctuating per-truck volumes.

There are operational considerations. People will expect a robotaxi to take the shortest, quickest route to their destination, Abuelsamid said. But package delivery has more flexibility. The delivery service can optimize the route for efficiency rather than speed. That could cut all the non-revenue, deadhead miles to pick up passengers.

“If you’ve got a vehicle that’s doing 10 to 20 deliveries on one trip, you can plan a route so that the last drop-off is the closest one back to your distribution center,” Abuelsamid said.

Other costs are associated with carrying passengers, like keeping the vehicle clean.

“You have to ensure nobody’s getting sick in the vehicle,” Abuelsamid said.

While Zoox may launch with passenger service, he said it wouldn’t be long before they carry packages.

“They’re going to use that technology in any way that benefits Amazon,” Abuelsamid said.

Other analysts agree that Zoox will alter its strategy.

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“They’re definitely going after both ride-hailing and delivery,” said Gary Silberg, who heads the automotive practice at the KPMG consulting firm.

Building its own robotaxi

But it’s no surprise that Zoox’s initial foray will be passengers because of how it designed its dedicated vehicle.

Zoox is one of two major autonomous vehicle companies building its own robotaxi. It will drive itself without human intervention, and it won’t have controls like a steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedals. General Motors-backed Cruise is building the Origin, a similar pod-like vehicle. But for now, Cruise is running modified Chevrolet Bolts.

Three robotaxi providers have started operations with retrofitted production vehicles.

The Zoox vehicle has four-wheel steering and is bi-directional so that it’s highly maneuverable in dense urban environments. It also has multiple in-vehicle airbags to protect passengers and a top speed of 75 mph in either direction, making it suited for highway use.

Modifications might be minor

Though tailor-made for ride-hailing, Zoox might easily modify the vehicle for delivery, Abuelsamid said.

“Just take the passenger seats out and replace them with an Amazon locker on wheels. When the vehicle arrives, you scan the bar code on your phone, and it pops open one of the locker doors,” he said.

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Amazon has also invested in Aurora Innovation, an AV developer first focused on deploying autonomous trucks in highway environments with ride-hailing planned at a later date. At some point, Zoox and Aurora could complement each other to Amazon’s advantage.

“Amazon lives to refine logistics and this is where I expect their true focus lies,” said Roger Lanctot, connected mobility analyst at Strategy Analytics. “If Zoox is eventually repurposed towards things instead of people, it need not compete with Aurora.”

Ultimately, Amazon will treat Zoox as it does everything else, a platform play, Silberg said.

“Who knew at the time that Amazon would go from just selling online books to selling everything in the world,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that they’ll probably add on.”

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Ford to build $3.5B electric vehicle battery plant in Mich.

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Ford to build $3.5B electric vehicle battery plant in Mich.

Ford Motor Co. plans to build a $3.5 billion factory in Michigan that would employ at least 2,500 people to make lower-cost batteries for a variety of new and existing electric vehicles.

The plant, to be built on land being readied for industrial development about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of Detroit, would start making batteries in 2026. It would crank out 35 gigawatt hours worth of batteries, enough to supply 400,000 vehicles per year, Ford said.

The factory near the city of Marshall would produce batteries with a lithium-iron-phosphate chemistry, which is cheaper than the current nickel-cobalt-manganese chemistry now used in many EV batteries.

Consumers could then choose between a battery with lower range and cost, or pay more for higher range and power. The company wouldn’t give any prices just yet.

“The whole intent here is to make EVs more affordable and accessible to customers,” said Marin Gjaja, chief marketing officer for Ford’s electric vehicles.

Ford says a wholly owned subsidiary would own the factory and employ the workers. But China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited, or CATL, which is known for its lithium-iron-phosphate expertise, would supply technology, some equipment and workers.

The announcement comes at a time when U.S.-China relations are strained, and the Biden administration is offering tax credits for businesses to create a U.S. supply chain for EV batteries. To get a full $7,500 per vehicle U.S. tax credit to customers, EV batteries won’t be able to have metals or components from China in them.

Ford is hoping that the structure of the deal will defuse criticism of spending tax incentive money on a joint-venture factory that would be part-owned by a Chinese company. Last month the state of Virginia dropped out of the race for the same Ford plant after Gov. Glenn Youngkin characterized the project as a “front” for the Chinese Communist Party that would raise national security concerns. At the time Virginia had not offered an incentive package to Ford.

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The company expects to take advantage of U.S. factory tax credits, and says that buyers initially would get at least $3,750 in tax credits because the vehicles are produced in North America. Gjaja said that over time they could get the full $7,500 credit depending on sourcing of battery minerals.

Lithium-iron-phosphate batteries would go into standard-range versions of Ford’s EVs. For instance, the lowest price Mustang Mach-E electric SUV would get an LFP battery and would be able to travel 247 miles per charge. The long range version of the Mach-E will have a nickel-cobalt-manganese chemistry that takes it to 310 miles per charge.

The plant was revealed Monday at a meeting of the Michigan Strategic Fund, which approved a large tax incentive package for the project near the junction of Interstates 94 and 69.

About $210 million came from Michigan’s Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve Fund, known as SOAR, set up to lure industry and jobs to the state. But the total size of the incentive package wasn’t clear.

The SOAR Fund has received nearly $1.8 billion from the state’s general fund since it was first created in December of 2021.

A tax-relief bill passed in the Michigan House last week could send up to $1.5 billion over three fiscal years to the SOAR Fund in addition to an $800 million one-time deposit that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer outlined in her budget proposal last week.

The tax-relief bill, which still needs state Senate approval, has been heavily criticized by Republicans for giving too little to taxpayers and too much to large corporations.

Last summer, Ford announced that CATL will make lithium-iron-phosphate battery packs for Mustang Mach-E electric SUVs in North America this year and for F-150 Lightning electric trucks early in 2024 “creating more capacity for high-demand products.” The batteries at first would come from China, then be switched to the Michigan plant in 2026, Ford said.

The company expects to be able to produce electric vehicles at a rate of 600,000 per year by late this year.

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Whitmer said the plant will bring “generational opportunities” for west Michigan families. It will “make sure that production lines aren’t stalled by global shocks or shipping delays,” she said.

Lithium-iron-phosphate batteries already are in use in consumer electronics and some competitors’ vehicles, but all the batteries are imported, said Lisa Drake, vice president of industrialization for Ford’s electric vehicles.

“This project is aimed at de-risking that by actually building out the capacity and capability to scale this technology in the United States,” with Ford controlling the manufacturing and the workforce.

Conrad Layson, senior analyst with AutoForecast Solutions, says the new battery factory could supply multiple Ford models. “As Ford increases the number of all-electric nameplates, the output from this factory could be used to make lower-cost versions of those future all-electric Ford vehicles,” he said.

____

Associated Press Writer Corey Williams contributed to this report.

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Tesla hikes price of Model Y after US alters tax credit rule

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Tesla hikes price of Model Y after US alters tax credit rule

DETROIT (AP) — Tesla has raised prices on its Model Y in the U.S., apparently due to rising demand and changes in U.S. government rules that make more versions of the small SUV eligible for tax credits.

The Austin, Texas, electric vehicle company bumped up the price of the Model Y Long Range version by about 2% to $54,990 and the Performance version by about 2.7% to $57,990, according to its website. The prices exclude shipping and an order fee.

The moves, made Friday, come three weeks after Tesla cut prices nearly 20% on some versions of the Model Y, the company’s top-selling vehicle. The price cuts were made to boost sagging demand, and also to make more versions of the Model Y eligible for the $7,500 electric-vehicle tax credit in the Inflation Reduction Act. The full tax credits will be available at least into March.

On Friday, The Treasury Department revised vehicle classification definitions to make more EVs — including SUVs made by Tesla, Ford and General Motors — eligible the full $7,500.

The change came after lobbying by automakers that had pressed the Biden administration to change vehicle definitions to allow higher priced vehicles to qualify for a maximum credit. Tesla CEO Elon Musk met with top aides to President Joe Biden last week to discuss the EV industry and the broader goals of electrification.

Under the sweeping law approved last summer, pickup trucks, SUVs and vans with a sticker price up to $80,000 qualify for EV tax credits, while new electric cars, sedans and wagons can only be priced up to $55,000. The rule had disqualified some higher-priced SUVs, such as GM’s Cadillac Lyriq and some versions of the Model Y, prompting complaints from Tesla and other automakers.

The January price cuts apparently worked. On Tesla’s earnings conference call last week, CEO Elon Musk said that so far in January the company had seen the strongest number of orders year-to-date in company history. He also said the company had raised the Model Y price “a little bit in response to that.”

After Tesla’s price cuts, Ford responded by reducing the price of its Mustang Mach-E, in part to qualify for the tax credit and also to spur buyer interest. But crosstown rival General Motors said it had no plans to cut EV prices.

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The EV tax credits are among a host of changes enacted in the Inflation Reduction Act, which Congress approved in August with only Democratic votes. The law is designed to spur EV sales as part of a broader effort to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

But a complex web of requirements, including where vehicles and batteries must be manufactured to qualify, has cast doubt on whether buyers can receive the full $7,500 credit.

The Treasury Department said Friday that it hopes to make it easier for consumers to know which vehicles qualify for the credit. Under the revised rule, vehicle classifications will be determined by a consumer-facing fuel economy labeling standard, rather than a more complicated formula set by the Environmental Protection Agency, Treasury said.

A message was left Saturday seeking comment from Tesla on the price increases. The increases were reported Friday night by Bloomberg News.

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Musk, top Biden aides meet in Washington, talk electric cars

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Musk, top Biden aides meet in Washington, talk electric cars

WASHINGTON (AP) — Tesla CEO Elon Musk and a pair of top aides to President Joe Biden met in Washington on Friday to discuss the electric vehicle industry and the broader goal of electrification.

Musk and Biden did not meet, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

The two haven’t had the smoothest of relationships, with Biden, a big supporter of labor unions, disappointed by Musk’s refusal to allow them into his factories.

White House aides Mitch Landrieu and John Podesta sat down with the Tesla chief — who also owns Twitter and SpaceX — at Tesla’s office in downtown Washington to discuss shared goals around electrification.

Their discussion touched on how infrastructure and climate legislation that Biden signed into law last year can help boost the production of electric vehicles and charging stations, and encourage more people to switch from gas-fueled to electric-powered vehicles and to choose more electric appliances, like heat pumps and stoves. Rebates and tax credits are available to encourage that shift.

Landrieu oversees federal spending on infrastructure, which included financial help for the electric vehicle industry. Podesta is the president’s point man on spending on Biden’s climate and clean energy initiatives.

Asked whether the meeting signaled a new phase in White House relations with Musk, Jean-Pierre said it “says a lot” about how Biden sees the importance of both pieces of legislation.

“I think it’s important that his team, senior members of his team, had a meeting with Elon Musk,” she said.

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