Nvidia rolls out array of auto partnerships

Nvidia, the computer-gaming and artificial intelligence company, is furthering its push into automotive development, manufacturing and in-vehicle gaming. In advance of CES this week, the tech titan announced an array of partnerships with automakers from around the world.

* Mercedes-Benz is using Nvidia’s Omniverse platform to create a digital twin of its assembly plant in Rastatt, Germany, allowing the company to plan production changes and test them in a virtual environment before reorganizing the physical plant.

* Foxconn will use Nvidia’s technology in developing its own advanced vehicles and to supply automakers with electronic control units based on Nvidia’s chips and sensors for highly automated driving.

* Hyundai Motor Group, Polestar and BYD are planning to offer Nvidia’s GeForce NOW cloud gaming service in vehicles. No specific models have been identified yet for in-car gaming, but the idea is to help entertain not only rear-seat passengers, but drivers who park to charge an electric vehicle, said Danny Shapiro, Nvidia’s vice president for automotive.

The range of the announcements helps show Nvidia’s role as an “end-to-end” partner for automakers, he said.

“We’re not like a Tier 2 chip supplier — that’s not how we operate,” Shapiro said in an interview Monday. “We do make chips that Tier 1s integrate into ECUs and that go into cars. But we tend to have direct relationships with the automakers. We do a lot of collaborative engineering and product development with them.”

Neoen announces massive new 400 MWh Tesla Megapack project

Neoen announces massive new 400 MWh Tesla Megapack project

Neoen, a French energy company, announced a massive new 400 MWh Tesla Megapack project in Australia. It’s one of the biggest energy storage projects in the world.

Tesla Megapack has quickly become the prominent battery pack for large-scale energy storage projects.

Neoen actually played a part in that.

Before the Megapack, Tesla had the Powerpack, and it was selected by Neoen for one of the first-ever large-scale energy storage projects using lithium-ion battery cells.

The Tesla Powerpack project in South Australia became known as the “Big Tesla Battery” and popularized Tesla’s utility-scale energy storage system.

Neoen owned the project and it proved to be highly successful and profitable. Lately, Neoen has announced new projects, and this time, it is using Tesla Megapacks.

Now the company is announcing another massive Tesla Megapack in South West Queensland, Australia:

Neoen, one of the world’s leading producers of exclusively renewable energy, has provided notices to proceed to battery storage experts Tesla and to balance of plant contractor UGL, signalling the start of construction for its 200 MW / 400 MWh Western Downs Battery in South West Queensland, Australia. In line with the company’s develop-to-own business model, Neoen will be the long-term owner and operator of the asset, which is its fourth big battery in Australia.

At 400 MWh of energy capacity, it will be one of the most significant Tesla Megapack projects in the world.

The system will be used to provide grid services and help stabilize the Australian grid, which has been increasingly adding renewable energy capacity.

Neoen wrote about the project:

The battery, consisting of Tesla Megapack systems, will leverage the existing infrastructure of Neoen’s Western Downs Green Power Hub which includes a 460 MWp solar farm, currently nearing completion. It will be located next to the Western Downs substation with Powerlink delivering the connection works, including a dedicated high-voltage line which will connect the battery to the transmission network. Early construction works are underway, with the asset expected to start operating in the Australian summer of 2024/25. 

The project will bring Neoen’s energy storage in operation or under construction to 776 MW / 1279 MWh – with most of it being from Tesla Megapacks.

Tesla recently updated the Megapack with more capacity.

Rally and gymkhana icon Ken Block dead at 55

Rally and gymkhana icon Ken Block dead at 55

Ghymkana hero and rally driver Ken Block died on Monday living life the only way he knew how—having fun.

Block’s crew at Hoonigan confirmed via Instagram he died in a snowmobile accent on Jan. 2. Block was 55 years old and is survived by his wife and three children. TMZ reported that the Wasatch County, Utah, sheriff’s office said the accident happened at about 2 p.m. when the snowmobile upended and landed on top of Block. He was reportedly pronounced dead on the scene.

“Ken was a visionary, a pioneer and an icon. And most importantly, a father and husband,” Hoonigan posted.

Hoonigan confirms Ken Block's death on Instagram

Hoonigan confirms Ken Block’s death on Instagram

Co-founder of DC shoes, Block took to professional driving while working as a marketing executive for his company. He attended Team O’Neil rally school at the age of 36 and became enamored with the sport. Block started racing full time in 2005.

Block created his first gymkhana video in 2008 and it immediately went viral. His latest gymkhana escapades saw him behind the wheel of the custom-built electric Audi S1 E-Tron Quattro Hoonitron for “Electrikhana.”

The Audi S1 E-Tron Quattro Hoonitron was built specifically for Block, who signed in on with Audi in 2021 to help develop electric cars for the German automaker. Block said he was a major Audi fan, but the partnership with the Four Rings was made possible by Block’s exclusive relationship with Ford coming to an end. Before teaming up with Audi, Block returned to rallying with Subaru, which is the brand that got him started with his motorsports career.

Block’s company, Hoonigan, has grown into a small empire. It merged with Wheel Pros in 2021.

While he grew up skateboarding, snowboarding, and riding dirt bikes, Block told Motor Authority in 2016 he quit riding dirt bikes because he “had this cool race car career.” He had plenty of injuries from riding dirt bikes and he was afraid to get injured. He still snowboarded a lot.

Block taught his 14-year-old daughter how to drive. She then immediately began to follow in her father’s footsteps and raced her father’s Hoonicorn against a Hemi-powered Corvette drag car. Ken Block called the car frightening with up to 1,400 hp.

Rivian, Lordstown, Tesla try to shake up pickup market with fresh features

Rivian Automotive beat the Detroit 3 to market with an electric pickup last year, challenging traditional truck orthodoxy with a playful design for high-end buyers.

Tesla promises to break the mold entirely this year with its wildly styled Cybertruck. And Lordstown Motors faces its own challenges making an electric work truck in a segment where loyalty reigns supreme.

Each of the three offers a clean-sheet approach to what a pickup can be in the electric era. For Rivian and Tesla, that’s something environmentally friendly, hip and cool, and which outperforms legacy rivals on metrics such as efficiency and range. Lords-town, meanwhile, is trying to undercut the Detroit 3 pickup makers on value.

But the tug of war between startups and legacy automakers is not a zero-sum game. Consumers who would never consider a boxy, gas-guzzling truck are expanding the market by moving from car-based electric vehicles to Rivian R1Ts. And loyal Tesla buyers can move into a new segment with the Cybertruck.

“There are people who desire the practicality of a pickup truck but aren’t keen on the idea of poor fuel economy and emissions,” said Robby DeGraff, industry analyst at AutoPacific. “A pickup truck that’s entirely electric is a lot more enticing to consider.”

For Rivian and Tesla, peeling off traditional pickup owners won’t be easy. But they can make an intriguing pitch to consumers, as the R1T and Cybertruck both promise sports car performance and top-level tech.

“There are always going to be buyers looking for something different, and shoppers looking at Rivian or Tesla pickups aren’t necessarily looking to buy a Chevrolet Silverado or a Ram,” said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting for AutoForecast Solutions.

Where the challengers may have trouble is price. Rivian already has raised prices for the R1T and could do so again as it burns through its cash pile. Tesla appears to have abandoned its original $40,000 starting sticker for the Cybertruck. And the Lordstown Endurance is no bargain, even for its fleet-only buyers.

With an $87,000 starting price for the version in production, plus shipping, the R1T is squarely a luxury pickup. Its 4.5-foot bed is more geared for camping than hauling building materials. A $73,000 version is expected to begin delivery in 2024.

Still, the R1T is a formidable rival.

It was among the top-selling EVs of 2022 and has won over many reviewers. An AutoPacific survey of future vehicle buyers found that 11 percent of those considering a Rivian in the next three years were Ford owners, followed by 9.3 percent Chevrolet and 3.4 percent Ram.

“The growth of pickups as daily drivers since the 1980s opens a potential market for lifestyle trucks like the R1T,” Fiorani told Automotive News. “Many of these buyers are already spending north of $70,000 for a gas-powered truck. So the leap to a Rivian isn’t as big a deal as it would have been just a few years ago.”

At the same time, Rivian has struggled with production at its Normal, Ill., plant and has a backlog of orders that likely will take until 2024 to clear. The R1T shares the assembly plant with the R1S SUV and EDV electric delivery vans for Amazon.

As a luxury vehicle, the R1T offers more than just a tony interior and distinctive exterior styling. It’s as fast as a sports car, with a sprint to 60 mph in three seconds, and can tow up to 11,000 pounds. It rides on an air suspension that can lower for nimble handling and raise for off-road trails.

It’s also cheaper than top-trim versions of the Ford F-150 Lightning, Chevy Silverado EV and GMC Hummer EV. But it’s smaller, too — and untested in terms of reliability and service.

“Ford, GM and Ram already have a proven, established presence as a result of their combustion-engine pickups and accompanying network of dealers to fix things when issues arise, and that will also be of tremendous benefit,” DeGraff said.

When Tesla CEO Elon Musk presented the Cybertruck in 2019, the pickup’s styling and specifications were shocking. The angular, pyramidlike shape was so extreme that some Tesla fans thought Musk might be playing a prank.

But Tesla has stood by the design, and production is set for late this year. Tesla originally promised that the Cybertruck would be ready for customer deliveries in late 2021. Reservations are believed to be in the hundreds of thousands or even more than 1 million, according to tallies compiled by fans of the EV brand. Tesla has not provided a formal number.

The company has explained that exterior by saying the Cybertruck’s thick, unpainted, cold-rolled steel cannot be easily curved. So the body panels, which form a supportive exoskeleton structure, are flat. The angular top allows for an aerodynamic shape that’s critical for EV efficiency.

Although the Cybertruck has changed since its prototype presentation, likely getting slightly smaller and more expensive, the company said it has not backtracked on its performance promises.

Tesla said its advantages over legacy half-ton pickups include six-passenger seating and a 6.5-foot bed with 100 cubic feet of lockable storage and a 3,500-pound payload capacity. Depending on the trim, the Cybertruck will be able to tow 7,500 to 14,000 pounds, Tesla said.

The automaker has touted range starting at 250 miles and surpassing 500 miles on some versions, with fast charging capability of greater than 250 kilowatts.

The most notable numbers in Musk’s original presentation were the prices: $39,900 plus shipping for the single-motor version with rear-wheel drive, $49,900 for the dual-motor with all-wheel drive and $69,900 for the tri-motor. Musk has since said prices will have to rise because costs have gone up significantly during development.

Musk had suggested in the presentation that the cost of ownership of a Cybertruck would be about half that of a combustion half-ton pickup. That could be compelling for commercial buyers, although analysts can’t imagine the wild Cybertruck proliferating on construction sites.

“Commercial truck buyers are looking for a traditional pickup,” Fiorani said. “Battery-electric pickups can provide a power source for tools, which is very beneficial to many types of work. And the torque offered by electric motors is great for towing and hauling. The Cybertruck, however, will appeal to daily drivers more than commercial truck buyers.”

But Tesla may have a strong hand when it comes to availability, having opened a factory in Texas to build the pickup. Tesla also has strong relationships with battery makers and does some in-house battery production. That makes the Cybertruck the biggest wild card among electric pickups.

“I don’t think there’s 1 million reservation holders,” DeGraff said. “I do think there’s maybe a few hundred thousand firm orders that will translate to sales, especially because Musk has been hyping this truck for what seems like an eternity.”

Even with a motor on each wheel, the Lords-town Endurance might never get enough traction to be a long-term success.

For one thing, the $65,060 Endurance is expensive to build and buy. For another, its estimated 200-mile driving range between charges is significantly shorter than that of rival trucks.

The base model Ford F-150 Lightning, for example, starts at nearly $58,000 and has an estimated 240-mile range. The Lightning is also a four-wheel-drive truck, but it uses only two motors.

For now, the Endurance is available only to fleet owners such as utilities, governments and construction companies. Since fleet operators usually maintain their own vehicles, skipping consumer sales alleviates the need for costly service centers and could help Lordstown conserve scarce cash as it ramps up production.

The first trucks in a planned 500-vehicle build entered production in September. Fleet customer deliveries of the first 50 began in late November after the Endurance received its federal safety certifications and efficiency ratings from California and the EPA.

Lordstown officials won’t identify the early customers.

The company plans to deliver the next 450 pickups by spring. After that, it’s unclear whether the company has enough cash to continue. Last year, Foxconn, the Taiwan-based manufacturer best known for assembling Apple’s iPhone, bought Lordstown’s Ohio plant and injected about $170 million into the venture. A further cash infusion of $70 million from Foxconn helped kick-start Endurance production.

But soaring costs for microchips, rare-earth magnets for electric motors and materials for the trucks’ lithium ion batteries likely have eroded any profit.

That said, the Endurance appeared in November at the Los Angeles Auto Show and looked like a well-made vehicle. Its wheel-hub motors are unique and give the truck several advantages, including better traction and fewer moving parts, which can reduce maintenance costs.

Company officials at one time said a consumer version of the Endurance would be available, but those plans appear to have been scrapped.

Tesla Q4: Record deliveries but the 405,278 cars delivered misses the target

Tesla Inc. delivered 405,278 cars worldwide in the fourth quarter, eking out a record despite rising interest rates, inflation and crimped production in China.

The results, posted Monday, missed expectations. In an effort to clear inventory, Tesla dangled discounts of $7,500 to U.S. consumers who took delivery in the last days of December.

Tesla delivered more than 1.31 million cars for the year, falling short of the 50 percent year-over-year growth the company has aimed for. In 2022, vehicle deliveries grew 40 percent from a year earlier, while production climbed 47 percent to 1.37 million, Tesla said in a statement. The company produced 439,701 vehicles.

More than 34,000 cars remained in transit at the end of the quarter. Analysts had expected the company would ship 420,760 vehicles — the average of estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

“Tesla sells cars, and the auto industry is slowing down,” Gene Munster, managing partner of Loup Ventures, said by phone. “They are still struggling with logistics, and the gap between production and deliveries grew from the last quarter.”

“We continued to transition towards a more even regional mix of vehicle builds which again led to a further increase in cars in transit at the end of the quarter,” said Tesla.

Tesla’s quarterly delivery figures are widely seen as a barometer for EV demand generally, since the Austin, Texas-based company has led the charge for battery-powered cars.

The company has a long tradition of going all-out at the end of the quarter to get cars into the hands of paying customers, with top executives such as design chief Franz von Holzhausen helping out at a southern California delivery center on New Year’s Eve.

Tesla doesn’t break out sales by region, but the U.S. and China are its largest markets and 95 percent of sales in 2022 were of the Model 3 sedan and Y crossover.

Tesla makes the Model S, X, 3 and Y at its factory in Fremont, California. Its Shanghai factory produces the Model 3 and Y. Tesla recently began delivering Model Ys from its newest plants in Austin and Berlin.

Tesla handed over its first Class 8 “Semi” trucks to Pepsi Co. in December, but the quarterly press release did not include any figures for the Semi truck.