Tesla’s ‘Plaid Powertrain’ could be game over for the Taycan before it’s begun

Now that Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the company’s research and development team have revealed the existence of upcoming ‘Plaid Powertrain’ …

Now that Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the company’s research and development team have revealed the existence of upcoming ‘Plaid Powertrain’ variants, a few more questions about their recently-announced competition come to mind. Will the Porsche Taycan’s engineering achievements be overshadowed before they’ve even been enjoyed by future customers? Will Taycan reservation holders decide to wait for Tesla’s newest Model S to come out before making their Porsche purchase?

Musk’s latest play to stop the competition looks like it may just be as effective as he’s hoping it will be. Brian from the YouTube channel i1Tesla summed the move up nicely in a message to Porsche: “Your car’s not even out yet, and Tesla’s diminishing what you’re going to be doing…With powertrain technology and battery technology…Tesla is so superior.” Brian further opined that what the Taycan has ultimately achieved is along the lines of what Tesla did with the Model S in 2012, or perhaps a step above it. The Plaid system then becomes an achievement that renders the question of whether the Taycan is a ‘Tesla killer’ completely moot.

Tesla Model S with development ‘Plaid’ powertrain sets Laguna Seca track record for 4-door sedan (Credit: Tesla)

As its flagship electric car, Porsche considers the Taycan is one of its most important vehicles since the 911. It’s priced in the same bracket as the iconic sports car, around $150,000, and claims a battery range in the neighborhood of 240 miles per charge with a 100 kWh battery pack. A current Model S Performance, which now includes Ludicrous Mode and Autopilot as a standard offering, has about 100 additional miles of range than the Taycan’s ratings and has a price tag around $50,000 less. Perhaps there are significant differences in the driving experience of both cars and the customers they are designed to appeal to have differences as well, but on paper there’s definitely a nod to Tesla’s current Model S. Once the new Roadster is on the market, of course, an entirely different comparison will be on the table.

Although the upcoming “refreshed” Model S and X are arguably exciting enough to depress future Taycan sales, there’s the other question of whether or not the latest plaid-centered announcement will impact Tesla’s sales as well. Musk has said that the newer versions will be more expensive than current offerings, but it’s not clear that the additional cost would deter buyers from investing in the superior battery and powertrains that would come with them. New Model S and X sales could suffer as a result if customers take the ‘wait and see’ approach.

Musk cited this particular concern when it came to the Model Y. If customers stopped purchasing the Model 3 in favor of waiting for the Model Y, Tesla would majorly suffer as a result, especially considering the annual sales expectations for the all-electric crossover are estimated to be around 1 million units per year. This was probably why the Model Y unveiling event was notably subdued compared to other unveilings. However, it was likely important for Tesla’s long-term investment worth to show the progress being made towards a vehicle that is hoped to be a game changer in the electric vehicle market (and greater auto market overall) despite this risk.

Obviously, the results of the so-called battle between the Porsche Taycan and Tesla’s current and future Model S offerings remains to be seen. The first front looks like it will take place on the Nürburgring racetrack in Western Germany as Tesla attempts to beat the Taycan’s 7 minutes and 42 seconds track time using a Plaid prototype Model S (or other variants) with a roll cage and 7 seats. For the record, Brian at i1Tesla has put his bets on a Tesla time of 7 minutes and 38 seconds. Stay tuned!

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Elon Musk wants to fix Tesla’s logistic issues by taking a page out of Amazon’s book

Elon Musk held a call with Tesla employees this week in which he emphasized that Tesla needs to move cars out of the factory faster in order to fix the …

Elon Musk held a call with Tesla employees this week in which he emphasized that Tesla needs to move cars out of the factory faster in order to fix the automaker’s logistic problems.

He made several comparisons to Amazon.

Tesla is not like other automakers in many ways.

One of those ways is that Tesla owns and operates all its own stores, service centers, and delivery centers without doing business with third-party franchise dealerships, like most other automakers.

This business model results in several obvious differences, but one of the least appreciated ones is that Tesla owns and is responsible for all its vehicles all the way until the customer takes delivery.

It creates more complex logistics problems for Tesla than other automakers who simply sell to dealerships who keep a lot of inventory on their lots.

Currently, Tesla’s custom-ordered vehicles often don’t move from the factory until they schedule a delivery date with the customer, which is not always as easy as you would think.

According to people on the call, Musk told employees this week that starting next quarter, Tesla will put the vehicles in transit right away and deliver them to local delivery centers for the customers to pick them up at their convenience.

Tesla is spending a lot of manhours trying to coordinate customer deliveries and it is backing up inventory at the Fremont factory.

Musk wants a constant flow of vehicles going to the end destinations and compare the logistics to Amazon.

The CEO said:

“Amazon would go bankrupt if they would have to wait for customers to be ready to take delivery before shipping.”

Interestingly, it’s also a financial problem since Tesla is investing all the money into building the vehicles and doesn’t get paid until the customer takes delivery.

Therefore, every day that the car is built and not in the hands of the customer, it’s a day that Tesla is several tens of thousands of dollars in the hole.

Musk has been emphasizing that delivering the vehicles faster to customers would greatly improve Tesla’s financials.

On a bigger scale, Tesla having production facilities closer to its customers basez would also have a big impact on reducing transit times.

That’s exactly what Tesla is trying to do with Gigafactory 3 in China and the company claims to be moving forward with a factory in Europe.

Electrek’s Take

According to people on the call, Elon was adamant about fixing Tesla’s logistics issues and he talked about Amazon as a good example of solid logistics.

It was a bold move for Tesla to build its sales, service, and distribution network around company-owned locations instead of franchise dealerships.

I think it paid off in many ways despite the fact that there are still some issues, including some sale bans in a few states, but I like that Tesla is still finding ways to optimize the business model like this and make selling electric vehicles a better and more profitable business in the long run.

Ultimately, it should be easier for customers who will have more availability to just go pick up their cars at Tesla delivery centers.

Amazon is an interesting comparison. It’s definitely an efficient company when it comes to logistics, but it is especially interesting with the context that Amazon has been itself looking into selling cars.

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With Tesla’s Elon Musk and Rivian’s RJ Scaringe, we have the Henry Ford and Alfred Sloan of …

The two biggest names in the electric car realm are Tesla CEO Elon Musk (obviously) and a guy you probably haven’t heard of, RJ Scaringe, who …

Regular Business Insider readers know that every weekend, I write a take on something Tesla-related. This time around, I’m going to ask for patience as I preface the effort with a short auto-industry history lesson.

The development of the car business in the 20th century followed a predictable pattern: daring innovators gave way to savvy managers. The early days were the Wild West — or Wild Midwest, and the burgeoning industry was located mostly in the middle of the US, with Detroit as its capital — but after World War II and the emergence of a vast American consumer culture, automotive startups morphed into multinational corporations.

Read more: In the battle of the Tesla Model S and the Porsche Taycan, it’ s really no contest

The two most important men in this story were Henry Ford, who needs no introduction, and Alfred Sloan, who does. It was Ford who laid the groundwork for the modern auto industry and pioneered both the effective moving assembly line and the idea of mass-market motorized transport with the Model T. The company that bears his name and that’s still run in part by his great-grandson, board chairman Bill Ford, remains the No. 2 US car company.

Sloan, a more obscure personality, created the modern corporation in General Motors. At its peak in the 1950s, GM controlled half the US car market; it still controls about 20%. (The Germans and Japanese weren’t really selling vehicles in the US during the Eisenhower administration.)

Henry Ford.
Getty Images

The Utopian Ford vs. the pragmatic Sloan

The key distinction between Henry Ford and Alfred Sloan was that Ford was something of a utopian (and, more troublingly, given to anti-Semitic propaganda) who harbored visionary, paternalistic attitudes toward his workforce and his customers. He believed that his workers should be paid enough to buy the cars they produced, and thereby created a virtuous circle, but he disliked credit and figured that there was no reason to sell Model T’s that weren’t black.

Sloan, by contrast, thought that the buyer was always right — or at least that the consumer should enjoy abundant choice, and that GM as a corporation should provide it. Some of this was expeditious: GM was created by combining brands — Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac — so Sloan was simply managing reality as GM’s president. But GM has always concentrated on the pull of consumers, rather than Ford’s push to deliver singularly great products.

The symbols of the two American giants capture this distinction. Henry Ford’s great achievement was the mighty River Rouge factory, where train cars loaded with iron ore pulled up to one end of the plant and finished cars rolled out the other. Sloan’s work of genius was GM’s organizational chart, the blueprint for American managerial capitalism.

Read more: With a US Department of Justice move against automakers, the Trump administration is now officially antibusiness

Alfred Sloan.
Wikimedia Commons

OK, history lesson over. Now let’s see how history repeats itself

The two biggest names in the electric car realm are Tesla CEO Elon Musk (obviously) and a guy you probably haven’t heard of, RJ Scaringe, who leads Rivian, a startup electric SUV and pickup-truck maker. In my cycles-of-history framework, Musk is Ford and Scaringe is Sloan. (There’s some irony here, by the way, as Ford has invested $500 million in Rivian, while Tesla hasn’t seen a major automaker take a stake since Daimler and Toyota bought equity prior to Tesla’s 2010 IPO.)

The big difference between Musk and Scaringe is that Musk, the visionary, wants nothing to do with the legacy auto industry anymore, while Scaringe is running Rivian sort of like a junior OEM. When I saw the photo below, of Scaringe and Bill Ford after the Ford investment was announced, I speculated that I was looking at Ford’s next CEO.

Scaringe with Ford Chairman Bill Ford.

Like Henry Ford, Musk is preoccupied with the manufacturing process — Tesla’s Gigafactories, in Musk’s view, are more important than Tesla’s cars. They’re the “machine that builds the machine,” and Musk would like them to become radically automated.

Why Rivian is more like a traditional automaker than Tesla

Scaringe — like Sloan, an MIT engineering grad — is creating an electric automaker that’s designed to reach the consumer; he’s not trying to reinvent manufacturing. To achieve that, he wants everything to do with the legacy auto industry. Where Sloan had his org chart, Scaringe has partnerships and deals, all intended to make Rivian vehicles easier to manufacture, sell, and service. His most recent investment, of $350 million from Cox Automotive, is representative. (Ford and Amazon have also kicked in, giving Rivian a $2 billion total.)

Cox owns Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader, among other properties. These entities are designed to facilitate the car buying and leasing process and are heavily organized around the consumer. By investing in Rivian, they’re getting a piece of the future, the chance to integrate sales not just of EVs, but of SUVs and pickups, the most popular vehicles in the lucrative US market. Rivian is getting a huge pipeline to buyers from the deal.

In the history of the car business, Ford is seen as stubborn and idealistic while Sloan is considered adaptable and pragmatic. Of course, both Ford and GM are still around, so it’s not clear that Ford’s vision lost out to Sloan’s technocracy. Musk likes to note that Ford and Tesla are the only two American car makers that haven’t gone bankrupt.

But Ford did have to recruit a cadre of number-crunching efficiency experts after World War II — the so-called “Whiz Kids” who had brought statistical analysis to the war effort — to modernize its business. Nonetheless, Ford has often been home to outside-the-box thinkers, from the brash Lee Iacocca to the former Boeing exec Alan Mulally, who rescued Ford from insolvency before the financial crisis. GM continues to embrace the skilled manager, although in current CEO Mary Barra the company has been making tough call after tough call on issues that the pre-bankruptcy GM had endlessly postponed, such as selling the perennially money-losing European division, Opel.

See also: Apply here to attend IGNITION: Transportation, an event focused on the future of transportation, in San Francisco on October 22.

A contest of engineers

Elon Musk shows off one of this vehicles, with help from a robot.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Interestingly, with Musk and Scaringe we also have a contest of engineers. Or more accurately, technologists, as Musk’s background is in physics while Scaringe has a PhD in mechanical engineering. Don’t interpret that as meaning Scaringe is a superior engineer; Musk likely knows more about electric-vehicle design than most people in the business. But while the auto industry is full of engineers in leadership roles, Musk likes to express engineering in a way that’s wonky and unique (as well as sort of irritatingly didactic at times). Scaringe is more low-key. But in Scaringe, Musk has a potential rival who can actually out-engineer him, something he hasn’t really had to deal with up to this point.

What we don’t have with Musk and Scaringe is a contest of celebrities. Musk is world-famous, the basis for the “Iron Man” Tony Stark character — a real-life billionaire and occasional playboy (Musk gets around, but he also has five kids). Scaringe is unknown outside the car business, and not even that well-known in it. I’ve been covering cars for over a decade and I’d never heard of him prior to about a year ago.

But obviously, even if you know nothing about cars, you’re probably familiar with Henry Ford, while Alfred Sloan might ring a bell only if you live in the New York area and are aware of the Sloan Kettering medical centers or the Sloan Foundation’s philanthropy.

Iron Man Musk.
Jurvetson / Flickr

The historical comparisons aren’t perfect. Musk is a creature of Silicon Valley and its embrace of risk-taking, rapid-iteration, launch-now-and-debug-later ethos. He’s been compared with Steve Jobs. The business dynamics of the tech industry in the early 21st century are not the same as the car business in the early 20th. Scaringe, meanwhile, has just begun to hit his stride, after almost a decade of developing and pivoting Rivian. He seems fresher because Rivian missed out on the EV-startup surge of the 2010s — a fortunate thing, as most of those startups, save for Tesla, have vanished. Scaringe is a creature of the next wave, which entails a lot more cooperation with Detroit and recognizes that building vehicles at scale is extremely difficult.

Prior to Scaringe, Musk’s main rival was often seen as Henrik Fisker, a car designer who founded Fisker Automotive, which went out of business in 2013 (Fisker himself had resigned by then, and the automaker’s decline was due to bottlenecks with its battery supplier and the unfortunate destruction of a load of cars in Hurricane Sandy). If anything, Fisker was a more flamboyant and compelling personality that Musk; I’ve talked to him on several occassions, and his talents as a raconteur are formidable. He’s currently engaged in a wide range of projects, from building a supercar to resuscitating electric mobility with a new company, Fisker, Inc.

Read more: The spectacular story of Ferrari’s 7-decade journey from an upstart racing team to a $30 billion-dollar luxury brand

The fox and the hedgehog

Tesla’s being built.

To borrow a famous analysis from the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, Fisker is a fox to Scaringe’s hedgehog (according to Berlin, referencing from an early distinction in ancient Greek literature, the fox knows many things, while the hedgehog concentrates on one). Musk, too, is a fox, engaged with space exploration, tunneling, and artificial intelligence.

At first glance, Henry Ford might seem hedgehog-like, but in my view, he was probably a fox, or perhaps a fox-hedgehog hybrid (as was the novelist Leo Tolstoy, by Berlin’s reading). Foxes function well as entrepreneurs, even though they might be single-mindedly devoted to their companies and their missions; Ford started two failed enterprises before the Ford Motor Company — and maybe even three, depending on how you assess his fortunes.

Sloan, meanwhile, found his glory in melding GM with the American consumer, and in a larger sense, postwar life. The definite GM quote didn’t come from Sloan, but he enabled the automaker’s World War II-era president, Charles Erwin Wilson, to tell Congress during his confirmation hearings to become Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense, that he could make a decision that would place GM and the US in conflict because “I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”

We’re now watching this business narrative of the 20th century repeated in the 21st. Ultimately, this is important because the gestational electric-vehicle industry needs big personalities to sustain and grow it. The first decade has been a mixed bag, with Tesla stumbling through a decade of infrequent profits and serial controversies while the major automakers approach a market that’s still quite weak, with halting steps.

Ford and GM are both producing electric cars, but we really need the new Ford and new GM. In Tesla and Rivian we could have not just that, but the leaders who can do for EVs what Henry Ford and Alfred Sloan did for internal combustion.

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Self-driving tech startup Voyage Auto raises $31 million in funding

The investment round was led by Franklin Templeton, with significant participation from Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures, and …

A self-driving technology startup called Voyage Auto has raised $31 million in Series B funding.

The investment round was led by Franklin Templeton, with significant participation from Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures, and Chevron Technology Ventures.

The latest funding round brings Voyage Auto’s total capital raised to $52 million.

Voyage says its mission is to deliver on the promise of self-driving cars, adding it will “deliver an autonomous ride-hailing service to customers who truly need it”.

Voyage says it be utilizing the new capital to ready its self-driving technology for commercialization, grow its team of self-driving experts, expand its fleet of G2 self-driving cars in California and Florida, and introduce the company’s G3 self-driving car.

Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, says: “Chevron has been supporting the public’s transportation needs for over 100 years.

“As our customers’ mobility needs and preferences change, we want to continue to be part of their journeys. Our investment in Voyage affirms this commitment.

“We established the Future Energy Fund in 2018 with an initial commitment of $100 million to invest in breakthrough technologies that enable the ongoing energy transition.

“The fund looks for technologies that lower emissions and support low carbon value chains. Our investment in Voyage fits well within the objectives of the Future Energy Fund while also informing our perspective on the changing energy landscape.”

Like many self-driving car projects, Voyager began with a simply retrofitted common car – the Ford Fusion – which Voyager named the G1.

The next stage was the introduction of the G2 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan.

The company is planning to choose another car as its “G3” development platform.

One of Voyager’s early investors was Jaguar Land Rover.

Sebastian Peck, managing director of Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures, says: “Since investing in the company’s Series A in 2018, it’s been fantastic to watch the business go from strength to strength.

“The company has made some incredible hires which have been instrumental in enabling the development of Voyage’s state-of-the-art technology.

“We’re excited to continue working with Oliver Cameron and his world-class team at Voyage.

“They’ve shown us that they have the capability to quickly make self-driving, autonomous taxis in residential communities a reality, sooner than anyone would have thought.”

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Silicon Valley-based Voyage Raises $31 Million in Latest Funding Round

The latest funding round was led by Franklin Templeton, with significant participation from Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land-Rover’s InMotion Ventures, …
Silicon Valley-based Voyage Raises $31 Million in Latest Funding Round

author: Eric Walz

Autonomous driving startup Voyage has announced a $31 million Series B funding round. The latest funding round was led by Franklin Templeton, with significant participation from Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land-Rover’s InMotion Ventures, and Chevron Technology Ventures. The new funding bring to total amount raised by Voyage to $52 million.

Voyage spun out of online learing platform Udacity in 2017 and its co-founder is Oliver Cameron, who serves as the company’s CEO. Cameron led the development of Udacity’s self-driving car course and worked closely with Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Google self-driving car program.

We’re excited to continue working with Oliver Cameron and his world-class team at Voyage. They’ve shown us that they have the capability to quickly make self-driving, autonomous taxis in residential communities a reality, sooner than anyone would have thought.” said Sebastian Peck, Managing Director of Jaguar Land-Rover’s InMotion Ventures in a statement.

While most of the industry to focused on deploying self-driving cars in urban settings, Palo Alto-based Voyage is targeting retirement communities with its on-demand ride-hailing service using a fleet of autonomous vehicles.

Voyage is currently testing and refining its technology in central Florida at The Villages, the nation’s largest 55 and over retirement community. According to U.S. Census data released in March 2018, The Villages was the 10th in the annual list of fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States with over 125,000 residents.

Voyage is also operating at The Villages in San Jose, California, offering its on-demand transportation service to 4,000 residents. The San Jose community is Voyage’s first commercial partner.

Operating in private communities like The Villages allows Voyage to collect valuable driving data and improve and refine its autonomous driving technology in a much safer and more controlled environment than a busy city street.

At the same time, Voyage is also providing a valuable service to older residents of the communities, many of whom cannot not drive due to physical limitations. Village residents can summon a ride within the community with an easy to use iPhone app.

The Villages is also a gated community, with limited traffic and other obstacles a self-driving car must learn to deal with if operating in an urban setting. Many residents get around using only golf carts. Speed limit within the community is 25 mph, making it a safer place for Voyage perfect its self-driving vehicles before rolling them out at scale.

Voyage’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, which are the same model Waymo uses, are outfitted with a suite of senors, including cameras, lidar and radar to operate autonomously. Right now there is safety driver behind the wheel to monitor the vehicle. The driver assists passengers with getting into and out of the vehicle, if needed.

Cameron wrote in a blog post that over the past two years Voyage’s engineering team has made significant improvements in its autonomous vehicle software, including transitioning to a safety-critical and certifiable middleware. The company says its new prediction engine has over an 10x performance increase to detect objects such as pedestrians and cyclists.

Voyage also said it creating triple redundancy in its perception system for fail-safe operation. The perception system serves as the “eyes” of the vehicles and refining it for the highest degree of safety is top priority for the team at Voyage.

The company’s prediction engine uses a combination of advanced probability models, high-definition maps, and time-based behavior models to predict what’s happening around its vehicles.

Voyage said it will use the new funds to ready its self-driving technology for commercialization, grow its team of self-driving experts and expand its fleet of self-driving vehicles in California and Florida. Voyage plans an eventual expansion outside of these of gated communities into more complex environments.

Voyage is one of the most promising new startups coming out of Silicon Valley. Last year, Cameron was recognized by Forbes in its annual 30 Under 30 list, chronicling the most innovative entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Canada. The company has also made some high-profile hires as it grows.

In June 2018, Voyage announced it hired engineer Drew Gray as its new CTO and Director of Autonomy. Gray worked as engineering director at Uber ATG, as well as stints at Otto, Cruise and Tesla. The company also brought onboard Davide Bacchet from Tesla where he worked on the company’s Autopilot. Bacchet also worked on autonomous driving at EV startup NIO.

Voyage said it increased its total headcount by 300% since its first Series A in Jan 2018.

In a blog post on Medium, Cameron wrote “Our mission is to deliver on the promise of self-driving cars, and we are thrilled to be working with forward-thinking investors who deeply believe in that mission. Together with these new resources, we will deliver an autonomous ride-hailing service to customers who truly need it.”