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.

Energy Information Agency: What’s really going on with the grid

What it is: Each month, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Agency compiles a running amalgam of statistics on electricity generation, transmission, usage and costs. The data highlights both current usage, nationally and regionally, as well as overall trends.

Where it comes from: The Energy Department collects the data from regulated utilities and grid operators across the nation and other sources.

How it’s used: The data shows trends that are vital to watch as the transportation industry shifts from internal combustion to battery electric power. An example is the increasingly rapid decline of coal as a primary fuel source for electricity generation. The data tracks the growth in power generation and price comparisons between fuels.

How it might be misused: The collected data is massive and could be cherry-picked to show how battery electric vehicles in certain locations draw the majority of their energy from environmentally harmful fuels, including coal and natural gas, even as renewable energy sources grow and fossil fuel sources decline.

Baidu, Pony.ai begin driverless taxi tests in Beijing

Baidu Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp.-backed startup Pony. ai said on Friday they been granted the first licences to test fully autonomous vehicles without safety operators as a backup in Beijing.

Baidu and Pony.ai said they would begin testing 10 driverless vehicles each in a technology park developed by the Beijing government as a step toward commercial robotaxi services in China’s capital.

Beijing-headquartered Baidu, which generates most of its revenue from its internet search engine, has focused on self-driving technologies over the last five years as it looks to diversify.

It started to charge fees for its robotaxi service Apollo Go last year. It has predicted a robotaxi ride would eventually cost about half as much as one in a commercial car with a driver. The company said it would add another 200 robotaxis to its network across China in the coming year.

Apollo Go, which operates in Wuhan and Chongqing without a safety driver, delivered a total of 1.4 million driverless rides by end of the third quarter, Baidu has said.

Rival Pony.ai, which has operations in China and the United States, has been testing autonomous drive systems in Guangzhou, where it operates a taxi service. It is also testing autonomous drive vehicles in California and Arizona, where it employs safety drivers in the cars as a precaution.

While Chinese companies are pushing for self-driving cars, automakers outside China have retreated from the ambitious rollout schedule predicted a few years ago and regulatory roadblocks have appeared.

Tesla’s “Full Self Driving” system requires a human behind the wheel ready to take control, three years after CEO Elon Musk predicted the company was on track to deliver a fleet of a million robotaxis.

Tesla has been under criminal investigation in the United States over claims that the company’s electric vehicles can drive themselves.

Cruise, General Motors Co.’s, robotaxi unit, has said it plans to add thousands of autonomous vehicles in the coming year and to expand its service across San Francisco and other U.S. cities.

U.S. auto safety regulators said earlier this month they had opened a safety investigation into the autonomous driving system used by Cruise after incidents where the vehicles braked inappropriately or became immobilised.

In October, Ford Motor Co. and Volkswagen Group shut down their shared self-driving startup, Argo AI, after concluding that the mass deployment of a commercial autonomous drive system would take more time and money than the companies predicted when they joined forces in 2019.

In March, Pony.ai agreed to repair a version of its autonomous driving software in the United States after an informal inquiry by the National Highway Traffic Safety concluded a defect had caused a test vehicle to crash into a traffic median in California.

Google Built-In lets Honda prepare for over-the-air updates

Honda will use the 11th-generation Accord as a test bed for its first integration of Google — a step that promises the future ability to make changes in existing vehicles.

The system, called Google Built-In, will be offered on the top Touring trim only. It essentially tethers the vehicle to its owner via their Google profile to enable a connected in-car experience without the use of a cellphone.

Google Built-In has three key apps: Google Assistant, Google Maps and Google Play. It runs through a responsive 12.3-inch touch screen with crisp, clean graphics. Google Assistant is at the center of it all, providing an answer to frequently fussy onboard voice-recognition systems.

But the technology offers more than a streamlined experience for the driver, Honda says. It represents the automaker’s first step toward the next phase of vehicle ownership, which includes the ability to add functions via over-the-air updates.

“What this enables down the road is not just the features it has now, but the ability to over-the-air update to provide a lot of new features and functions that weren’t even developed at the time the car went on sale,” said Jay Joseph, American Honda Motor Co.’s vice president of CASE and Energy.

CASE stands for Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electrified and is a newly created department tasked with accelerating Honda’s initiatives in these areas.

“We think the idea of owning a car that will add function two, three or eight years after it’s been sold can really change the dynamics of the ownership experience and the used-vehicle market,” Joseph said.

“Our focus is really to put the customer in the middle of the equation, so in that sense, the connected-vehicle experience it offers is essential,” he said.

Facilitating over-the-air software updates is not a new idea in automotive.

Joseph says Honda already has been delivering content to many of its vehicles over the air to reflash existing systems or give service updates.

“The new value of OTA,” he said, “is evolving to include upgrade opportunities.

“By combining the hardware with the software, we can optimize the experience for each individual where they can change functionality or performance after the vehicle purchase.”

In addition to controlling commands such as navigation and music, Google Built-In can operate the climate system. (“Hey Google, turn on the seat heaters for the front passenger.”)

According to Honda, it’s just the first iteration of enabling car functions with technology, and in the future users will be able to accept updates to make their vehicles inherently better or smarter.

In November, Honda announced its Honda Sensing 360 system, which will add more sensors and enhanced collision-avoidance functions to all Honda and Acura vehicles by 2030. That increased sensor capacity could also enable Honda to add features and capabilities after a vehicle is purchased.

“Maybe something requiring additional development, like self-parking or auto summon,” Joseph suggested.

He declined to say whether other Honda vehicles might adopt Google Built-In, but he noted that the concept of layering software on top of hardware fits better with electric vehicles because of how connected they already are.

“The electronic platforms of EVs are more compatible with this network connectivity concept than conventional cars,” Joseph said. “And that creates new possibilities in the electrified era with a software-defined vehicle.”

TuSimple to lay off 25% of workforce

TuSimple Holdings Inc. said Wednesday it will lay off 25 percent of its workforce, or nearly 350 employees, as the self-driving truck company seeks to chart a course out of the economic upheaval that has been raging throughout the year.

The company said it expects to record a one-time charge of nearly $10 million to $11 million, most of which would be recorded in the fourth quarter.

The downsizing also follows the dramatic removal of CEO Xiaodi Hou in October after an investigation by the company’s board revealed that some employees spent paid hours last year working for Hydron Inc., a startup working on autonomous trucks mostly in China.

Earlier this month, TuSimple also ended a deal with Navistar to co-develop trucks with autonomous driving capability.

For first responders, Waymo provides a guide to the self-driving era

Reda Riddle-Bigler heard about the autonomous vehicles deployed throughout the metro Phoenix area years ago. Sometimes she’d see the cars, with elaborate sensors affixed to their roofs, driving along the road.

But it wasn’t until May, when she received a promotion to central district commander with the Phoenix Fire Department, that she understood self-driving technology could present challenges in her role as a first responder.

“It was a realization, all of the sudden, that these vehicles are everywhere,” she said. “That’s when I made the connection that this means something to me.”

As autonomous vehicles take to roads across the country in both pilot programs and limited commercial service operations, first responders like Riddle-Bigler are reaching similar realizations. Once they start thinking about AVs, questions on the behavior of the vehicle and emergency scenarios abound.

That’s where Rob Patrick comes in. A longtime special operations commander with California Highway Patrol, Patrick now serves as a first responder specialist for self-driving technology company Waymo, a Google subsidiary that expanded its operations throughout metro Phoenix this year. First responders often turn to him for answers.

Earlier this week, Waymo applied for the necessary permit to begin driverless commercial service in San Francisco.

Patrick, 59, trains police officers and firefighters on the nuances involved with Waymo’s self-driving technology and autonomous driving operations. Since starting in April 2021, he has conducted more than 150 training sessions across the country.

A handful of other self-driving companies, such as Kodiak Robotics, say they have employees in similar liaison roles.

There’s an urgent need for such interaction between police officers, firefighters, tech companies and government and city officials, according to an August 2021 report from the Governors Highway Safety Association. The report indicated first responders and crash investigators need training to better understand ever-evolving vehicle automation.

While walking first responders through emergency response guides and answering questions is the nuts-and-bolts portion of his efforts, Patrick said his main job is forging connections and having conversations long before something goes wrong.

“Part of my role is that they can pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey Rob, we were wondering why a car did this or that,’ and then I look into it,” he said.

In November, he received such a call from Riddle-Bigler. A Waymo robotaxi had come across a crash scene in Phoenix. A firetruck blocked a portion of the road and the robotaxi navigated around it.

“It should have turned around,” Riddle-Bigler said.

She described the incident as more happenstance than something that raised concerns. But firefighters wanted to understand why the vehicle maneuvered around them. For Riddle-Bigler, it underscored the fledgling nature of interactions between AVs and first responders.

“We think we have this under wraps, but all it took was one incident to realize that we don’t know what we don’t know,” she said. “It shows to me how valuable this relationship is, and the importance of those guys reaching out.”

In his training sessions, Patrick starts by delineating between driver-assistance and autonomous driving systems. He reminds his audience there are no self-driving vehicles on sale to the general public — a misconception the Governors Highway Safety Association report flagged as common among law enforcement officers.

Patrick provides information on sensors, which is familiar for police officers accustomed to using radar for monitoring vehicle speed and lidar for reconstructing crime scenes. He then walks first responders through emergency response guides prepared for both the company’s Chrysler Pacifica minivans and Jaguar I-PACE electric vehicles.

In some respects, human-driven vehicle models can pose the same dangers. Rescuers must be aware of risks related to electric shock and stranded energy, and know areas where they should and should not cut to extract passengers following a crash. Waymo’s autonomous I-PACE vehicles contain an additional wrinkle. Hoses that bring air and cleaning fluid to the sensor array on the roof are housed in the C-pillar.

“It’s not hazardous to them,” Patrick said. “But if they have to do a roof removal, they have to be aware that it exists so they’re not surprised by it.”

Finding and accessing such information at a moment’s notice is an important goal. Emergency response guides for both the Pacifica and I-PACE are uploaded onto iPads that many Phoenix police officers and firefighters carry in their vehicles.

Should first responders have additional questions, Waymo has a dedicated 877 number for them to call. They can also press a display button inside the vehicle to be linked to a remote services operator, or use the dedicated phone line between the company’s operations center and the Phoenix fire and police departments, Patrick said.

Responding within a matter of minutes, the most important thing is that “we want to know what we can and can’t do, what can hurt us, and how to protect the people in the vehicle,” Riddle-Bigler said.

One of the most common questions first responders ask involves ensuring a vehicle is stopped or in park following a crash. Typically, a passenger cannot grab the steering wheel and wrest control of the vehicle — a feature that provides security in the company’s everyday operations.

But Waymo’s remote services team can enable such control following a crash or when law enforcement requests it on the dedicated phone line.

Another common question involves vehicle behavior at a traffic stop.

In April, an AV operated by GM-backed Cruise drove away from a police officer in San Francisco before a traffic stop could be completed. This incident comes up frequently in Bay Area training classes. A Waymo vehicle would have responded differently, Patrick said.

“If they had stopped our vehicle, the windows would have been rolled down and the rider-services people would have been on the speaker saying, ‘Hi officer, how can I help you?’,” he said.

The incident led to renewed questions about AV interactions with police officers, while also accentuating larger tensions between AV companies operating in the city and public officials, who say they have little control over what happens on their streets.

Jeffrey Tumlin, director of transportation at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, often hears about problems involving AVs, either from 911 operators or on social media. Waymo is an exception in proactive communication when problems arise, he said.

“We hear from Waymo,” Tumlin said. “We don’t always hear from other companies we work with.”

Sometimes communication is a two-way street. In November, an AV was vandalized in the city. San Francisco police officers called the Waymo dispatch center to alert them. It turned out it was not a Waymo vehicle. For Patrick, it didn’t matter.

“They had their training, they called the Waymo number,” he said. “For a guy that does what I do, that made me feel awesome.”