Uber Brings Smartphone App Over To Freight Hauling

The ride-hailing giant today launched Uber Freight, which takes the same model used in rider trips over to freight hauling.

Commercial truck and van operators can use the new mobile app to link up with end users who need cargo transported on city streets and highways. Uber Freight serves as the broker providing its mobile, cloud-based technology to interested parties.

The company has been testing Uber Freight for van deliveries since September. That’s taken place in the Texas Triangle region that goes between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio and Austin.

Uber Freight wants to win over independent operators and large carriers nationwide. Drivers and carriers will have the process simplified on a mobile app, with a guarantee they’ll be paid within seven days.

Watch the video to see the heavy-duty trucking side of the business.

Uber Freight will involve human drivers. Since Uber’s acquisition last year of the Otto self-driving truck startup, it’s been assumed automated deliveries would be next in the queue.

Moving Otto forward has been stalled by a federal lawsuit filed by Waymo accusing the Otto founder, an engineer and previous Google employee, of stealing some of Waymo’s technology trade secrets for the Otto system.

The judge in that case ruled that the engineer, who had left Waymo to start Otto prior to the Uber acquisition, has to stay away from using some critical elements in the Waymo technology while the suit is being tried. Criminal charges are also being looked into by the U.S. attorney’s office by order of the judge.

A few Otto employees have transferred over to Uber Freight. However, the new Uber Freight division is entirely separate from Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group that oversees development of autonomous cars and trucks, said Uber Freight director Bill Driegert.

Uber is keeping quiet on how many trucking companies and independent contractors are using Uber Freight. Users can pay contract or spot rates, but the company isn’t disclosing what the rates are for now.

Interest from truckers is coming from the basic economic issue of how to best utilize assets tied to market demand.

“Uber’s disruptive impact has been almost entirely in its easy connection of underutilized assets with demand. That’s the start and finish of why it has swept across the transportation landscape,” said Michael Ramsey, an analyst at Gartner Inc. “An Uber for hauling stuff is sensible and really builds on what trucking companies have tried to do in their own ecosystem to ensure that trucks are full as often as possible.”

SEE ALSO:  Otto Self-Driving Truck Tests in Ohio; Violated Nevada Regulations

Competition for playing the third-party broker role is intense among startups finding backing from private investors. Uber Freight is competing with other on-demand transport services such as Cargo Chief, Convoy, Doft, Flexport, HaulHound, Loadsmart, Parade, Ship Lync, Transfix, TugForce, and others.

The market has huge potential. Less than 5 percent of U.S. trucking lines are using on-demand freight services these days, said Wallace Lau, a commercial vehicle industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

Uber thinks that its reputation, while colored this year by legal controversies, will carry over well into freight hauling.

“Uber brings the tech capability and depth of resources and talent that nobody in the space can match,” Driegert said.



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Mercedes-Benz Storing Solar Power For Homeowners Through Parternship

Mercedes-Benz is bringing its energy storage business to the U.S. through a partnership with residential solar company, Vivint Solar.

The collaboration pairs the German brand’s energy storage division with one of the U.S.’ largest home solar companies, and Mercedes-Benz says it sees a new market segment to serve, plus a good way to promote its electrified vehicle offerings.

Those purchasing the energy storage system will get modular 2.5 kWh batteries that can be combined to go as high as 20 kWh of stored power. Vivint Solar will be on hand at the installation to customize the homeowner’s setup based on their energy consumption.

For homeowners with solar power, the collaboration will provide them with more control over managing electricity costs and providing backup power if the grid goes down. For owners of electric Mercedes models, tapping into clean energy can be guaranteed by charging up through stored solar power.

For Mercedes electric car owners, such as those driving the B-Class Electric Drive or the future EQ models, power will be coming from their solar panels no matter what. For those concerned about having to charge their cars on the grid when their solar power runs out, or during emergency power outages, they can be assured they can always go off the grid.

“As Mercedes-Benz electrifies its vehicle fleet, solar plus storage is essential to enable those vehicles to be powered by clean energy,” said Boris von Bormann, CEO of Mercedes-Benz Energy Americas. “With batteries featuring the best in automotive engineering from Mercedes-Benz, and high-quality solar energy systems from Vivint Solar, our solution allows customers to take the next step toward a sustainable energy future. The launch of our home battery system in Europe has been successful and we are thrilled to be working with Vivint Solar to bring a reliable and compelling solar plus storage offering to American homes.”

Earlier this month, Mercedes-Benz Energy staked its claim to the U.K. market through energy storage aimed and home and business owners. Homeowners will have the same backup capacity as in the U.S., and commercial customers are being given access to more power storage.

Parent company Daimler started the energy storage division in 2015 soon after Tesla Energy was launched. BMW and Nissan have also started up energy storage businesses.

Advocates of solar energy, and other renewables such as wind, for years have been hoping that energy storage systems will come to market that can alleviate the instability of fluctuating weather patterns. Beyond hours of available sunshine, rainstorms and cloud covers can take away some of the available energy going to solar panels.

Tesla is going this route through its Tesla Energy unit and SolarCity subsidiary. Powerwall units are able to store enough solar energy to continue keeping homes lit up and Tesla vehicles charged when sunshine goes away.

SEE ALSO:  Mercedes-Benz Launches Energy Storage Products In UK

As for keeping energy costs down, Vivint Solar will help customers better manage their consumption. For those living in power zones with time-of-use electricity rates, users can store excess solar energy for consumption when energy costs shoot up, such as during nighttime.

Some electric utilities are also willing and able to purchase renewable energy from other sources such as home and business owners with stored solar power. That can reduce energy costs and provide them with an additional revenue stream.

Vivint Solar and Mercedes-Benz Energy will start this service in the California market.

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Toyota CEO Says Move to EVs May Be Boring, Costly

Toyota is already criticized enough for being boring.

Now its CEO is saying that a market shift toward EVs will be boring and expensive.

This was said by CEO Akio Toyoda even as he leads a special project team that plans to build an EV by 2020, and as it works to catch up to Chevrolet, Tesla, and others in the mainstream EV market.

Those two automakers are releasing affordable EVs with 200-plus miles range – the Bolt and Model 3 – this year (the Bolt is already available in some states, with the full rollout expected by summer). Volkswagen is also expected to have multiple EVs available by 2020 and as many as 30 EV models by 2025, and let’s not forget Nissan’s next Leaf due this year as well.

SEE ALSO: Toyota Collaborating on $35 Million Artificial Intelligence Projects

In an interview with Automotive News, Toyoda appeared indifferent to an all-electric version of the company’s 86 sports coupe that was presented to him by his company’s engineers. He further mused out loud, on the record, about how it might be hard to sell EVs as anything other than point A to point B cars – in other words, how can emotion be injected?

SEE ALSO: Toyota Prius Prime Becoming Hot Commodity On Dealer Lots

“When it comes to electric vehicles, every car, be it the Yaris or whatever, once it is electrified, the acceleration is all the same,” Toyoda said to Automotive News. “The reason I am responsible for EVs as well is that I don’t want to make these cars a commodity. Even with the electrification of the vehicles, I want the prefix ‘I love’ to be affixed to those cars.”

“What I meant was, for an OEM manufacturer, you’re choking yourself. It is commoditizing your vehicle,” Toyoda said.

Toyota 86. Less exciting in EV form to CEO Toyoda.

Toyoda has already pushed for his company’s cars to have more interesting exterior looks and sportier driving dynamics, with some success in both areas. So it’s clear that Toyoda values products that excite.

He’s also aware of how Tesla fans have boosted that brand via their love for the vehicles the boutique automaker produces.

“I want to change the way they work on EVs,” Toyoda said. “Maybe we will call them electric vehicles, but introduce connectivity. Think about Tesla. Tesla is producing cars. And Toyota is producing cars. But what Tesla is producing is something close to an iPhone.”

He’s not just referring to how consumers react to the cars, but also the team he’s put together for the EV scheduled for 2020. Only four employees, including Toyoda, helm the project, while the rest come from suppliers. This is done to mimic the flexibility of a startup company.

Toyoda has his work cut out for him, due to Toyota’s past reputation as a maker of boring, reliable cars and the fact that many EVs are seen as rolling appliances. But since automobile purchases are often driven as much by emotion as any other reason, if not more, it makes sense that at least one automotive executive is thinking about how emotion and EVs will work together as the market changes.

Automotive News (sub. req’d), Green Car Reports

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