Businesses

German Company Building An Electric 'Air Taxi' Makes Key Hires From Gett, Airbus and Tesla (techcrunch.com) 35

Lilium, the Germany company known for building an electric "air taxi," is announcing a number of key hires from notable companies in the transportation space. While the company is still in its early days, it is ambitiously striving to make flying cars a reality. Back in April, the company launched its first public (and successful) test flight in Germany. TechCrunch reports: [The key hires] are Dr Remo Gerber, former MD for Western Europe at Gett, who joins Lilium as Chief Commercial Officer; Dirk Gebser, who takes up the position of VP of Production and previously held manufacturing executive roles at Airbus and Rolls Royce; and Meggy Sailer, who joined Lilium as Head of Recruitment in February and was formerly Tesla's Head of Talent EMEA. In a call with Gerber, he told me he was "super happy" to be joining the German startup, noting that there are very few companies in Europe with the same level of ambition. "It is definitely the most fascinating job I could have ever imagined," he says, audibly excited. "I've done quite a few things in my time and I've seen quite a few companies but never anything even remotely like that." To add a little color, Gerber pointed out that his training is in physics ("a long time ago") and that his grandfather was a pilot in World War II, and his uncle also a pilot. This, and the first time he saw the Lilium jet fly, made the opportunity to join a startup building a new kind of air travel "irresistible."
AI

Elon Musk Backs Call For A Global Ban On Killer Robots (cnn.com) 213

An anonymous reader quotes CNN: Tesla boss Elon Musk is among a group of 116 founders of robotics and artificial intelligence companies who are calling on the United Nations to ban autonomous weapons. "Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend," the experts warn in an open letter released Monday...

"Unlike other potential manifestations of AI, which still remain in the realm of science fiction, autonomous weapons systems are on the cusp of development right now and have a very real potential to cause significant harm to innocent people along with global instability," said Ryan Gariepy, the founder of Clearpath Robotics and the first person to sign the letter. More than a dozen countries -- including the United States, China, Israel, South Korea, Russia and Britain -- are currently developing autonomous weapons systems, according to Human Rights Watch.

Google

Google Hires Former Star Apple Engineer Chris Lattner For Its AI Team (bloomberg.com) 49

An anonymous reader shares a report: Chris Lattner, a legend in the world of Apple software, has joined another rival of the iPhone maker: Alphabet's Google, where he will work on artificial intelligence. Lattner announced the news on Twitter on Monday, saying he will start next week. His arrival at Mountain View, California-based Google comes after a brief stint as head of the automated driving program at Tesla, which he left in June. Lattner made a name for himself during a decade-plus career at Apple, where he created the popular programming language Swift. Lattner said he is joining Google Brain, the search giant's research unit. There he will work on a different software language: TensorFlow, Google's system designed to simplify the programming steps for AI, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
Google

Tesla Looking To Start Testing Autonomous Semi In 'Platoon' Formation (arstechnica.com) 63

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Tesla is developing a long-haul, electric semi-truck that can drive itself and move in "platoons" that automatically follow a lead vehicle, and is getting closer to testing a prototype, according to an email discussion of potential road tests between the car company and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), seen by Reuters. The correspondence and meeting show that Tesla is putting self-driving technology into the electric truck it has said it plans to unveil in September, and is advancing toward real-life tests, potentially moving it forward in a highly competitive area of commercial transport also being pursued by Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] and Alphabet Inc's Waymo. After announcing intentions a year ago to produce a heavy-duty electric truck, Musk tweeted in April that the semi-truck would be revealed in September, and repeated that commitment at the company's annual shareholder meeting in June, but he has never mentioned any autonomous-driving capabilities. An email exchange in May and June between Tesla and Nevada DMV representatives included an agenda for a June 16 meeting, along with the Nevada Department of Transportation, to discuss testing of two prototype trucks in Nevada, according to the exchange seen by Reuters.
Transportation

Tesla Seeks $1.5 Billion Junk Bonds Issue To Fund Model 3 Production (reuters.com) 159

As Tesla seeks fresh sources of cash to increase production of its new Model 3 sedan, the company announced on Monday that it would raise about $1.5 billion through its first-ever high-yield junk bond offering. "The debt offering marks Tesla's debut in the junk-bond market and the company will start road-shows on Monday, IFR reported, citing lead bankers on the deal," reports Reuters. From the report: Tesla has been riding high on investor expectations that its Model 3 will be a mass-market hit, with shareholders pushing its market value above that of General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co, the top two U.S. automakers that produce millions of cars each annually. But Tesla has yet to make an annual profit and its stock is a favorite among short-sellers, who continue to bet Tesla will fall short of its shareholders' high hopes. So far, Tesla has been raising money to pay its bills with a combination of equity offerings and convertible bonds, which eventually convert into shares. In March, the company raised $1.4 billion through a convertible debt offering. Following the announcement, Standard & Poor's assigned a "B-1" rating for the bond issue -- deep into junk credit territory. S&P also maintained its "B-" long-term corporate credit rating on Tesla. "We could lower our ratings on Tesla is execution issues related to the Model 3 launch later this year or the ongoing expansion of its Models S and X production lead to significant cost overruns," S&P said in a statement on the bonds. Meanwhile, Moody's assigned a junk "B3" rating to the bond issue and said the company's rating outlook was stable.
Businesses

Can Elon Musk Be Weaned Off Government Support? (thehill.com) 270

mi shares an opinion piece written by Jenny Beth Martin via The Hill: A study published in 2015 by The Los Angeles Times revealed that just three of Musk's ventures -- SolarCity Corp. (which manufactured and installed solar energy systems before its 2016 merger with Tesla Motors Inc.), Tesla Motors Inc. (which manufactures electric vehicles), and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX (which builds rocket ships) -- had received $4.9 billion in government subsidies to that point in time. By now, Musk's various ventures have sucked well over $5 billion from government coffers. Worse: in order to induce car buyers to spend their money on electric vehicles, the federal government offers a $7,500 rebate on the purchase price. Some states enhance that rebate with rebates of their own. In California, for instance, purchasers of electric vehicles get a state-funded rebate of $2,500 more.

Slashdot reader mi asks: "Why are you and I subsidizing Elon Musk's products and when will his businesses be able to compete on their own?"

Transportation

Elon Musk Inspired an Industry of Hyperloop Startups. Now He's Building His Own (bloomberg.com) 153

An anonymous reader shares a report: Elon Musk introduced his vision for a futuristic mode of tube-based transportation called the hyperloop in 2013. In an exhaustive white paper, he laid out a body of research conducted with his team at Space Exploration Technologies demonstrating the system's viability and seemingly offered it as a gift to the entrepreneurial community. "I don't have any plan to execute because I must remain focused on SpaceX and Tesla," he said in a conference call at the time. He apparently changed his mind. Last month, the SpaceX and Tesla chief executive officer revealed on Twitter that he'd received "verbal government approval" to build a hyperloop capable of ferrying passengers between New York and Washington, D.C., in 29 minutes. The tweet came as a shock to executives at the various startups racing to develop their own hyperloops based on Musk's specifications. Several of them initially expressed hope that Musk would simply dig the tunnels and perhaps choose one of their startups to create the physical infrastructure, which involves a tube-encased train traveling at speeds faster than an airplane. Nope. A person close to Musk said his plan is to build the entire thing, including the hyperloop system. Musk also holds a trademark for "Hyperloop" through SpaceX, which could be used to prevent other companies from using the term, according to U.S. public records. The billionaire's unexpected entry into the hyperloop business could threaten the ambitions of three startups, which have raised about $200 million combined from venture backers. "There's probably a finite amount of capital willing to bet on this space -- and bet against him," said Jonathan Silver, the former loan programs director at the U.S. Department of Energy. Silver learned not to underestimate Musk after overseeing a 2010 loan of $465 million to Tesla, which the electric carmaker paid back, with interest, nine years ahead of schedule.
Businesses

Tesla Burns Through Record Cash To Bring the Model 3 To Market (bloomberg.com) 220

Dana Hull, reporting for Bloomberg: Tesla's Elon Musk keeps getting the green light to do what it takes to bring electric cars to the masses, regardless of how much it's going to cost. The company burned through $1.16 billion in cash in the second quarter by spending on capacity for its cheapest model yet and boosting battery output. Investors fixated instead on what Musk said is coming next: Hundreds of thousands of Model 3 sedan deliveries, installations of solar roofs and an all-new semi truck to add to the lineup. "This is the best I've ever felt about Tesla's future," Musk said on a conference call. The stock surged as much as 7.4 percent to $349.94 as of 9:45 a.m. Thursday in New York, the biggest intraday gain in four months. The chief executive officer has built a fanatical following of Tesla shareholders who continue to throw their support behind his clean-energy vision. It helps that consumers keep opening their wallets: The Model 3, which starts at $35,000, has racked up almost half a million reservations and is drawing more deposits by the day. The record negative free cash flow Tesla reported for the three months ended in June was almost double the $622 million it went through in the first quarter. With a little more than $3 billion in cash on hand, Musk told analysts the company is thinking about raising money through a debt offering.
Businesses

Tesla Factory Workers Pushing For a Union Send Letter of Requests To Company's Board Members (phys.org) 317

One of the many challenges facing Tesla right now is the escalating worker complaints about pay and safety. At its California factory, a move to unionize is gaining steam. Workers recently sent a letter to Tesla's independent board members requesting access to the automaker's safety plan as well as clarity on compensation and a promise of no retaliation against employees as they try to form a union. From a report via Phys.Org: The United Auto Workers is in the process of trying to unionize the 10,000 Tesla workers at the Fremont plant, alleging the company has a poor safety record -- a charge it vehemently denies. "We're tired of suffering preventable injury after preventable injury. It impacts morale, it slows down production and it's of course traumatizing," said Michael Catura, a Tesla production worker who signed the letter. Starting pay for production associates in the Fremont facility is $18 an hour, far below the national average for auto workers of $25.58 and even farther below the living wage in Alameda County, California, where the average wage is $28.10, according to the letter sent by workers. In addition, the letter said the paths to promotion are not clear. "Many of us have worked for years with the vague promise of a raise, with nothing to show for it," said Richard Ortiz, who works in the paint shop. "We have no idea what the criteria is to move forward, and no idea of what defines success. We've raised these issues repeatedly, and have gotten no response," he added.
Transportation

Tesla Model 3 Test Drive: Car Has Bite and Simple Interior (wsj.com) 192

An anonymous reader shares a WSJ article: A first peek inside Tesla's new Model 3 compact car revealed a starker, cozier interior than the more spacious and luxurious Model S. But as the sedan sped off, the experience felt similar. On Friday, the Silicon Valley auto maker showed off details of the all-electric sedan's interior for the first time (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source), allowing brief test rides with a roughly 10-minute spin around the factory. The Model 3 represents a milestone for Chief Executive Elon Musk, who has long wanted to create an electric car for the masses. He's betting the new vehicle can help fuel massive growth for his 14-year-old company, projecting Tesla will produce a half-million cars next year, after delivering about 76,000 Model S sedans and Model X sport-utility vehicles last year. The Model 3's exterior was revealed in March last year, but details about the interior have been scarce. The $35,000 sedan is noticeably bare bones inside -- gone are the displays and instrument panel behind the steering wheel and the numerous switches and buttons found in the cockpit of traditional cars. Instead, the Model 3 makes greater use of a video screen in the center dash that controls most of the car's functions.
Businesses

SpaceX Is Now One of the World's Most Valuable Privately Held Companies (theverge.com) 107

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Elon Musk's aerospace company SpaceX is now valued at $21.2 billion, knocking off WeWork as the fourth most valuable privately held tech company in America. This skyrocket in valuation comes after another round of funding that raised $351 million for the company. According to Equidate, a marketplace for trading private tech company stocks, SpaceX's price per share is now $135, up from $96.42 prior to the new funding round. The latest valuation makes SpaceX one of the top five most valuable private, venture-backed tech companies in the US, joining Uber ($69.8B), Airbnb ($31B), WeWork ($20.8B), and the less consumer-facing analytics company Palantir ($21.3B). (SpaceX previously held the sixth spot before Snap, Inc. went public in March.) All five companies are disruptive forces in their respective industries, and also top the world's most valuable startups alongside Didi Chuxing and Xiaomi, as first pointed out by The New York Times. Last year, SpaceX was valued at $14.6 billion.
Transportation

New Diesel and Petrol Vehicles To Be Banned From 2040 In UK (bbc.com) 417

New submitter puenktli writes: The UK is joining the list of the countries which are making a commitment towards diesel and petrol free vehicles. Other countries might be more progressive with such a ban (e.g. the Netherlands: by 2025), but at least it's a step in the right direction. However, if new bans are put forward at such a high rate as now, in 2040, the UK might be the only western country where petrol-fuelled cars are still on the road. Tesla at least will be happy about this ban, especially now with their Model 3. But these bans will inspire other car makers as well to invest more in EV. Maybe not such a bad idea after all: oil will run out one day, but the sun will always shine.
AI

Elon Musk Says Mark Zuckerberg's Understanding of AI Is Limited (ndtv.com) 318

An anonymous reader shares a report: Elon Musk is a man of many characteristics, one of which apparently is not shying away from calling out big names when they are not informed about a subject. A day after Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Musk's doomsday prediction of AI is "irresponsible," the Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity founder returned the favour by calling Zuckerberg's understanding of AI "limited." Responding to a tweet Tuesday, which talked about Zuckerberg's remarks on the matter, Musk said he has spoken to the Facebook CEO about it, and reached the conclusion that his "understanding of the subject is limited." Even as AI remains in its nascent stage -- recent acquisitions suggest that most companies only started looking at AI-focused startups five years ago -- major companies are aggressively placing big bets on it. Companies are increasingly exploring opportunities to use machine learning and other AI components to improve their products and services and push things forward. But as AI is seeing tremendous attention, some, including people like Musk worry that we need to regulate these efforts as they could pose a "fundamental risk to the existence of human civilisation." At the National Governors Association summer meeting earlier this month in the US, Musk added, "I have exposure to the very cutting edge AI, and I think people should be really concerned about it. I keep sounding the alarm bell, but until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don't know how to react, because it seems so ethereal." Over the weekend, during Zuckerberg's Facebook Live session, a user asked what he thought of Musk's remarks. "I have pretty strong opinions on this. I am optimistic," Zuckerberg said. "And I think people who are naysayers and try to drum up these doomsday scenarios -- I just, I don't understand it. It's really negative and in some ways I actually think it is pretty irresponsible."
Transportation

Man Blames Tesla Autopilot System For Rollover Crash, Then Recants (autoguide.com) 126

According to AutoGuide, the driver of a Tesla is blaming the Autopilot system for a recent crash in Minnesota. "58-year old David Clark was approaching an intersection when he turned the Autopilot system on, causing the car to accelerate suddenly and veer off the road," reports AutoGuide. "The vehicle ended up on its roof in a marsh with all five occupants sustaining minor injuries." From the report: Tesla's Autopilot function is considered an SAE Level 2 autonomous system, meaning the car will accelerate and steer on its own, but the driver is expected to remain alert and intervene if necessary. In an emailed statement to Electrek, Tesla said it has yet to establish whether or not the Autopilot function was actually turned on at the time of the accident. The company also noted it is still the driver's responsibility to ensure the safe operation of the vehicle when Autopilot is engaged. AutoGuide's report was based off the information Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office received and reported. Now, it appears the Tesla driver is claiming the self-driving Autopilot system wasn't responsible for the crash, despite what he initially told investigators. According to ABC News, Clark said he was confused in the moments after the crash. After discussing the crash with his fellow passengers, he now believes that he disengaged Autopilot by stepping on the accelerator before the crash. "I then remember looking up and seeing the sharp left turn which I was accelerating into. I believe we started to make the turn but then felt the car give way and lose its footing like we hit loose gravel," Clark wrote in the email.
Businesses

Here's Elon Musk's Plan To Power the US on Solar Energy (inverse.com) 507

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from Musk's keynote speech: Tesla CEO Elon Musk -- whose company makes electric cars and has a new solar roof panel division -- reminded more than 30 state governors at the National Governors Association meeting this weekend exactly how much real-estate is needed to make sure America can run totally on solar energy. "If you wanted to power the entire United States with solar panels, it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada or Texas or Utah; you only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States," Musk said during his keynote conversation on Saturday at the event in Rhode Island. "The batteries you need to store the energy, so you have 24/7 power, is 1 mile by 1 mile. One square-mile." It's "a little square on the U.S. map, and then there's a little pixel inside there, and that's the size of the battery park that you need to support that. Real tiny."
China

Automakers Are Asking China To Slow Down Electric Car Quotas (electrek.co) 304

New submitter Kant shares a report from Electrek: The auto industry is once again attempting to slow down the rollout of electric vehicles. Virtually all automakers, except for Tesla of course, have sent a letter to the Chinese government in an attempt to have them drastically weaken their zero-emission vehicle mandate. As we previously reported, China, the world's biggest car market, has somewhat of an aggressive ZEV mandate that would force automakers to have zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) represent 8% of new car sales as soon as 2018 and quickly ramp up to 12% by 2020. Now Germany's WirtschaftsWoche magazine (via Auto News) reports that the American Automotive Policy Council (AAPC), which represents Chrysler/Fiat, Ford, and GM, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), which represents all major European automakers, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) and the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association (KAMA), have all sent a joint letter to China's Minister of Industry and Information Technology to ask for several significant changes to the mandate.

The "six recommended modifications" include slowing the rollout of the mandate by 1 to 3 years, reconsidering the penalty system if they don't meet the quota, having credits not only for all-electric cars but also plug-in hybrid cars, and basically making the whole mandate weaker so that they don't have to produce as many electric cars.

Businesses

Tesla Sales in Hong Kong Dry Up After Gov't Drops Tax Break (axios.com) 103

Tesla couldn't sell a single car in Hong Kong in April after the government dropped a tax break for electric cars on April 1, the Wall St Journal reports citing government data. From the report: "as a result of the new policy, the cost of a basic Tesla Model S four-door car in Hong Konghas effectively risen to around $130,000 from less than $75,000." There were 2,939 Tesla's registered in Hong Kong as of April. Further reading: Nobody in Hong Kong wants a Tesla anymore.
China

Reality Bytes: A Highflying Tech Entrepreneur Crashes Back To Earth (wsj.com) 64

An anonymous reader shares a WSJ article: Entrepreneur Jia Yueting likes to say that Apple is outdated, China's big technology companies are innovation-killing monopolies and his company, LeEco, is the real industry disrupter. That swagger served Mr. Jia in building an empire that sprawled across seven industries, from online video content to smartphones to electric cars. By having the ambition to take on Apple, Tesla and Netflix all at once, Mr. Jia seemed to embody the boundless promise of the huge China market. And investors responded favorably. Deal makers like HNA Capital and Legend Holdings bought in, as did the city government of tech hub Shenzhen, as well as movie director Zhang Yimou and other celebrities. British sports car maker Aston Martin joined up to develop electric vehicles. The U.S. state of Nevada promised $200 million in incentives for Mr. Jia's electric car venture, Faraday Futures, to build a $1 billion plant there. And LeEco unveiled a $2 billion deal to buy U.S. TV-maker Vizio. Now, most of those deals are dead or struggling and Mr. Jia's dreams are fading away due to a cash crunch and worried creditors (could be paywalled). On Thursday he resigned as chairman of a listed unit of LeEco, Leshi Internet Information & Technology, though he will remain the chairman of the holding company. That move comes after a Shanghai court last week -- at the behest of China Merchants Bank -- froze $181 million worth of his assets and $2 billion in shares over a missed interest payment.
Australia

Elon Musk Promises World's Biggest Lithium Ion Battery To Australia (cnn.com) 272

Elon Musk is following through on his promise to solve an energy crisis in Australia. From a report: His electric car company, Tesla, has teamed up with a French renewable energy firm and an Australian state government to install the world's largest lithium ion battery. Paired up with a wind farm in the state of South Australia, the battery will be three times more powerful than the next biggest in the world, Musk said at a news conference in the city of Adelaide on Friday. "If South Australia's willing to take a big risk, then so are we," he said. The announcement comes after billionaire entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes threw down the gauntlet to Musk in March, asking if Tesla was serious when it claimed it could quickly end blackouts in South Australia. "Tesla will get the system installed and working 100 days from contract signature or it is free. That serious enough for you?" Musk wrote on Twitter at the time.
Transportation

Tesla Model S Fails To Get Top IIHS Crash Rating (usatoday.com) 80

mrspoonsi writes: Shares in Tesla have plummeted more than 13 percent this week after lower than expected deliveries and the Model S only attaining an acceptable result in recent crash tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states: "Tesla made changes to the safety belt in vehicles built after January with the intent of reducing the dummy's forward movement. However, when IIHS tested the modified Model S, the same problem occurred, and the rating didn't change. Although the two tested vehicles had identical structure, the second test resulted in greater intrusion into the driver's space because the left front wheel movement wasn't consistent. Maximum intrusion increased from less than 2 inches to 11 inches in the lower part and to 5 inches at the instrument panel in the second test. The first test resulted in a good rating for structural integrity, while the second test resulted in an acceptable structural rating. The two tests' structural ratings were combined, resulting in acceptable structure and an acceptable rating overall for the Model S." A Tesla spokesperson responded to the IIHS's crash rating in a statement to Forbes: "IIHS and dozens of other private industry groups around the world have methods and motivations that suit their own subjective purposes."

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