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June 16, 2019
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China’s Tesla wannabe Xpeng starts ride-hailing service

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There’re a lot of synergies between electric vehicles and ride-hailing. Drivers are able to save more steering an EV compared to a gas vehicle. Environmentally conscious consumers will choose to hire an electric car. And EVs are designed with better compatibility with autonomous driving, which is expected to hit the public road in the coming decades.

Indeed, Tesla is eyeing to launch its first robotaxis in 2020 as part of a broader ride-sharing scheme. Over in China where Tesla has a few disciples, EV startup Xpeng Motors, also known as Xiaopeng, just started offering a ride-hailing app powered by its own electric fleets.

Screenshot of Xpeng’s ride-hailing app ‘Youpeng Chuxing’

The company is the latest in a clutch of carmakers flocking to introduce their own ride-hailing platforms. Didi Chuxing’s massive loss has not deterred their ambitious plans. Rather, this may be a prime time to crack a market long dominated by Didi, which is prioritizing safety over growth following two high-profile incidents and a series of new government regulations.

Xpeng’s ride-hailing app is currently only available in a limited area within Guangzhou where it’s headquartered, shows a test conducted by TechCrunch’s on Thursday.

The company’s coffer is probably large enough to fund its newly minted venture. It’s one of the most-backed EV upstarts alongside rival Nio, which raised $1 billion from a New York initial public offering last year.

Xpeng has to date banked $1.3 billion from Alibaba, IDG Capital, Foxconn, UCAR and other big-name investors, according to disclosed funding data collected by Crunchbase. Founder He Xiaopeng, a serial entrepreneur who made a fortune selling his mobile browser company UCWeb to Alibaba, told CNBC in March that Xpeng may also try an IPO down the road but wants to focus on building the business first.

When it comes to sources of inspiration for the business, Xpeng told local media that it sees Tesla as its “benchmark”. The company has never been shy about its admiration for its American peer. In an interview with Quartz in 2018, He said one of the reasons he founded Xpeng “was because Elon Musk made Tesla’s patents available. It was so exciting.”

But the affection might have gone a little far. In March, Tesla sued an ex-employee for allegedly stealing Autopilot’s proprietary technology before taking a job at Xpeng.

Xpeng started shipping to its first owners in March and was founded five years ago against the backdrop of Beijing’s aggressive electric push in the transportation sector. The sprawling city Shenzhen, just north to Hong Kong, has turned all its public buses and almost all of its taxis electric.

2019 Audi RS 5 review: A bruising high-tech cruiser

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The Audi RS 5 Sportback is an animal. Tamed, sure, but not domesticated. It’s important to remember as one day, maybe next week or next year or both, the RS 5 will revert to its natural state and become fervid, wild and unforgiving.

The RS 5 sedan shares a similar look to the everyday Audi A5 and S5. The RS 5 is a different animal altogether. At a moments notice it can go from a Home Depot hauler to a street brawler. Even in its most mild form, the RS 5 feels like a cat ready to pounce, but click few settings, and the cat turns feral.

This five-door sedan is raw and unhinged, and there’s an unnatural brutally under the numerous electronic systems. Its twin-turbo 2.9L power plant roars while the Audi all-wheel drive system keeps the rubber on the tarmac. It’s insane, and like most vacations, it’s lovely to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live with the RS 5.

Review

After a long, cold winter, it’s finally nice here in Michigan. Leaves are peaking out, and the grass is turning green. The severe winter left Michigan’s crumbling roads in a state of disrepair. There are potholes the size of bathtubs and this Audi is equipped with rubber bands for tires. This became problematic during my time with the vehicle.

The RS 5 is Audi’s ultimate version of a midsize sports sedan. The tester I’m driving costs $99,990 and is outfitted with every option available including ceramic front brakes, 174 mph limiter,

Like most modern sports cars, the RS 5 has a bevy of driver-selectable options. Everything is adjustable, from the seats to the throttle response to the exhaust note. The RS 5 is a track superstar, and the adjustable options reflect that pedigree. Options are adjustable from intense to hardcore. Clicking from the so-called comfort setting to dynamic is like going from a 10 to a 12. Want even more? Click the transmission to sport, and the car turns from feral to rabid.

Driving the RS 5 is an exercise in restraint. The car leaps off the line with intoxicating enthusiasm. The shifts drop into place with German precision, encouraging the driver to go faster and faster. The RS 5 isn’t a commuter car. This isn’t a car that should be relegated to a life of driving to and from an office park. The RS 5 is built for the weekend racer and never lets you forget it.

The RS 5 offers impressive driving dynamics thanks mostly to the twin-turbo power and quick transmission. Engage the transmission’s sport mode and it seems to read the driver’s mind. It feels like there’s a camera looking at the road ahead telling the transmission that at any moment the driver will want to click down three gears to pass a meandering crossover. And then, when called upon, the RS 5 is ready to overtake, slamming the occupants into the quilted leather seats.

It doesn’t matter if the RS 5 is shooting off the line or going 70 down an expressway; when the driver mashes the accelerator to the floor, heads snap backward.

Driving the Audi RS 5 is like using a cheat code. The all-wheel drive system and instantaneous shifts can make anyone feel like a professional driver. To be clear, there are faster and quicker cars than the RS 5. I’ve been in those cars. The RS 5 is different in an old-fashioned way as few new cars feel as raw as the RS 5. The way it lays down its rather modest amount of power results in its nervous smile.

The RS 5 is a car with an old soul. Hidden under the modern German engineering is a vehicle wanting to break free of the electronic restraints. The RS 5 doesn’t want the advanced traction control or adjustable exhaust note. It wants to spend every Saturday morning at the track burning through another set of its low-profit tires. This car feels like a sports car from an era where it took skill to stay on the track.

The RS 5 feels as quick as the fastest electric sedans though by the numbers it’s slower. Audi pegs the RS 5 with a 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds. Some electric counterparts can best that time by more than a second. Audi’s use of a twin-turbo on an ingenious V6 engine enables the RS 5 to launch with the best of them though it will quickly fall behind as the speed climbs.

The ride quality is adjustable but always harsh. The RS 5 rides like a work truck in its comfort setting. In dynamic, it feels like a farm tractor. This stiff ride helps the RS 5 stay planted but it cannot ever be described as comfortable or enjoyable. Sure, the RS 5 can throw its occupants sideways while taking an expressway ramp at 70 mph. It also feels like it will shake itself apart while cruising down a side street.

The RS 5 shares the same proportions as Audi’s entry-level A5. It’s a midsize car that feels bigger than it should. The RS 5, like its A5 and S5 siblings, is comfortable and roomy for a vehicle of its size. There is plenty of room in the front while its a bit tight in the back for a couple of adults.

The one I’m driving is the Sportback trim. It features a sort of rear door that opens like a hatchback without sporting the trademark hump. It’s similar to that found on Audi’s fantastic A7/S7 series. The configuration gives the operator more convenient access to the rear storage while retaining the look of a sedan. I like it.

The infotainment system inside the 2019 RS 5 is of the same design as Audi’s used for years. It’s old but aging nicely. Everything is controlled by a large knob located by the shifter. It’s still one of the best user interface available though several 2019 Audi vehicles are equipped with a brand-new system that’s quicker and even easier to use thanks to a touchscreen with haptic feedback.

Besides a few choice details and carbon fiber trim, the inside of the RS 5 is unremarkable and rather pedestrian. That’s fine with me. Above all, the cabin is usable and comfortable. RS 5 buyers are not looking for luxury appointments. They’re here for the speed, and on that, the RS 5 delivers.

The RS 5 is proof we’re living in the golden age of internal combustion engines. The biturbo 2.9L engine is brilliant. While cruising around town, the power plant is easy going and agreeable. In stop and go traffic, the turbos are restrained and slow to spin up.

What I’m saying is the RS 5 is properly tuned and will only snap necks if instructed to do so.

I came for the performance but stayed for the noise.

The RS 5 is loud. I love it, and my kids love it. I’m sure my neighbors will be glad when this tester goes home. The RS 5 has the performance chops of the fastest electric sedan, but the exhaust is a constant loud reminder that it burns fossil fuel. The exhaust roars while the turbos scream. In comfort mode, the exhaust is mechanically subdued, and yet it still growls. In dynamic, it sounds like an angry dragon as it spits, grumbles and roars an explosive warning to everyone in a three block radius.

There are a few competitors to the RS 5, but only the BMW M5 matters. The M5 is the classic sports sedan with a pedigree that spans generations. Between the two sedans, the performance is similar though, by most accounts, the BMW is quicker to 60 mph by a half a second. The BMW uses a 600 horsepower 4.4L twin-turbo V8 while the Audi taps a twin-turbo V6 that outputs 444 horsepower. A BMW M5 starts around $100,000 and can easily reach well north of that. The $74,00 Audi RS 5 starts closer to the sticker of the smaller BMW M3. The fully-loaded example I’m driving costs $99,990.

The pricing between the Audi RS 5 and M5 only tells part of the story and shoppers should spend time in both vehicles to understand the differences. Some might get drunk on the RS 5’s raw power while others could be sold on the M5’s refined performance and superior ride quality. If it were me, I would opt for the RS 5 and dump the difference in cost into a savings account to pay for speeding tickets.

There are countless examples of people expecting wild animals to behave like domesticated animals. But there’s a line between a tamed animal and a domesticated animal. One is still wild and shouldn’t be trusted. At a moment’s notice, the tamed animal can attack. That brings us to the Audi RS 5 Sportback.

To be clear, the RS 5 is not a grand tourer or a grocery getter. It’s an intense performance vehicle. For the right person, it will give countless thrills and endless smiles. During my time with the RS 5, I found myself continually egging the vehicle a bit faster and louder. The noise is addicting but the ride is back breaking.

The ride quality is intense and could be a deal breaker for some people. It’s rough and unforgiving and tuned for performance. The RS 5 is not for people with back problems or those that need a zippy commuter. For those, look at the much-less-expensive but still impressive Audi S5.

The RS 5 deserves a life on a track or open road. This sedan is a bottomless pit of power and thrills. The RS 5 is invigorating, a bit backbreaking but ultimately unforgettable.

Tesla Model Y orders are now open

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Customers can already place an order for the Tesla Model Y, a mid-sized crossover SUV that won’t go into production until 2020.

Tesla requires a $2,500 deposit to complete the order for the all-electric vehicle, according to information posted on its website. A disclaimer on the order form states that “production is expected to begin late next year.” Under that timeline, deliveries wouldn’t begin until late 2020 or possibly early 2021.

There are other clues on the order page, including that the seven-seat interior won’t be available until 2021. The Model Y will come standard as a five seater.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Model Y on Thursday night at the Tesla Design Studio in Los Angeles. During the presentation, Musk didn’t mention that customers could order the Model Y. That’s a departure from previous events, notably the Model 3 reveal in March 2016, which prompted thousands of people to put down $1,000 deposits.

The Model Y bears a striking resemblance to Model 3, and for good reason. The Model Y shares about 75 percent of the same parts as the Model 3.

The vehicle, which will come in a standard, long range, dual-motor all-wheel and performance variants, is larger than the Model 3, allowing it to accommodate seven people (for those who opt to pay the $3,000 up charge). The order page of the Model Y shows that it comes standard as a 5-seater. To get the 7-seater configuration, customers have to pay an additional $3,000.

The Model Y also sits higher than the Model 3, a distinction that is more obvious once you’re sitting inside. One of the most distinguishing differences is the Model Y has a panoramic roof.

The standard range version will start $39,000 and have 230 mile range. However, Tesla will first produce the performance, dual-motor and long range versions. Customers who want the standard range version of the Model Y will have to wait until at least spring 2021. The performance and dual motor variants will be able to travel 280 miles on a single charge, while the long-range version will, as it sounds, have the longest range at 300 miles.

All of the variants are designed to have the same kind of performance as its smaller sibling. The performance version of the Model Y will be able to travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds and reach a top speed of 150 mph.

But that kind of performance comes at a higher price. The performance version will start at $60,000. The dual motor variant will start at $51,000 and the base price of the long-range version will be $47,000.

How to watch Elon Musk unveil the Tesla Model Y

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Tesla is scheduled to reveal the Model Y — the next electric vehicle in electric automaker’s lineup — tonight at an event in Los Angeles after, not months, but years of teasers and hints from CEO Elon Musk .

Tesla will live stream the Model Y unveiling event at 8 pm PT via its website. However, folks who want to watch the event should head over to the site (https://www.tesla.com/modely) prior to the 8 pm start time. There is a registration process. Once completed, a new page pops up with the message “Thank you for registering. We will send you an invite in the hours leading up to the event.”

TechCrunch will be at the event to hunt for other interesting tidbits about the Model Y as well as possibly get a ride in the compact SUV. Stay tuned.

What to expect

Details about the compact SUV are scant, although Musk has provided some information leading up to the March 14 Tesla Model Y event.

The Model Y is expected to be 10 percent bigger than the Model 3 and cost 10 percent more, according to Musk. It will have the same battery as the Model 3, but its beefier profile will mean “slightly less” range than the Model 3.

Tonight’s event should answer many, but not all questions. Expect more information on the vehicle specs such as range and performance, two favorite go-tos for Musk. Price could be revealed as well. Those kinds of splashy data points can create buzz and attention. But TechCrunch is more interested in the how, than the what.

What we’ll be watching for is any information about where the Model Y will be produced, a production timeline, and what manufacturing strategy the company plans to pursue. TechCrunch will also be paying attention to how Tesla handles reservations for the Model Y.

Some of Tesla’s biggest problems stem from how it builds its electric vehicles. The company emphasized highly automated systems and then backed away from that approach. (Remember the tent?)

Why it matters

Model 3 has long been considered Tesla’s most important car. And it still is. Without continued sales of the Model 3, Tesla will lack the necessary capital to produce the Model Y.

Meanwhile, the Model Y, if Tesla can apply all of the lessons it learned from its troubles with the Model 3 production, could be a smash hit for the automaker. More importantly, Musk is counting on the Model Y to hit the company’s goal of delivering 1 million cars by 2020.

Americans are still lusting after SUVs, particularly smaller ones,  and it’s an appetite that has grown beyond U.S. borders and into other important markets such as China.

Audi’s new Q4 e-tron concept is a compact electric crossover with 280 miles of range

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Audi today provided an advanced look at what will be its fifth production electric vehicle, a compact crossover concept that is expected to come to market at the end of 2020.

The all-electric Q4 e-tron SUV concept, which was revealed at the Geneva International Motor Show, is equipped with dual motors with a power output of 225 kW. An 82 kWh battery provides 280 miles of range; that’s more than the bigger e-tron that debuted in September. Audi bases its range estimate off of Europe’s new WLTP standard.

The first e-tron vehicles — the larger production all-electric SUV — will be delivered to customers before the end of March, Audi said.

The Q4 e-tron is an all-wheel drive vehicle that can travel from 0 to 100 km/h (62 miles per hour) in 6.3 seconds and reaches a maximum speed at an electronically limited 180 km/h (112 mph).Audi Q4 e-tron concept

Inside the Q4 e-tron is the virtual cockpit. A digital display showing speed, charge level and navigation is located behind the steering wheel. A large-format heads-up display with an augmented reality function is a new feature, and displays important graphical information, such as directional arrows for turning, directly on the course of the road, Audi said.

The steering wheel has toggles that a driver can use to control some functions. A 12.3-inch touchscreen located above the center console caps off the whole infotainment system. Meanwhile, the center console is designed as a stowage compartment that  includes a cell phone charging cradle.

Audi Q4 e-tron concept

Interior

There are details about the Q4 e-tron that remain a mystery. For instance, there’s no word on the price. But expect the Q4 to be cheaper than the $74,800 e-tron.

Audi is working toward electrifying its portfolio, a commitment that was borne out of parent company VW Group’s diesel emissions scandal that erupted in 2015. Audi plans to have 12 all-electric models by 2025.

Like other electric vehicles under the VW Group umbrella, the Q4 e-tron has a modular electric drive toolkit chassis, or MEB. The MEB, which was introduced in 2016, is a flexible modular system for producing electric vehicles that VW says will make it more efficient and cost-effective.

Later this year, Audi will introduce the e-tron Sportback, and the first Audi Q2L e-tron, which was designed specifically for the Chinese market, will roll off the assembly line.

In the second half of 2020, the company will unveil the production version of the four-door high-performance coupé Audi e-tron GT, which is being developed at Audi Sport GmbH. The compact Audi Q4 e-tron is expected to make its production debut at the same time.

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