Spotify is test driving a car hardware thing called ‘Car Thing’

For anyone following Spotify, this no doubt felt like an inevitably. As the streaming service looks to diversify, the company’s already had some loose partnerships with hardware companies like Mighty. Now it’s looking to build its own thing.

That thing being “Car Thing.”

The piece of automotive hardware isn’t a consumer device exactly. Spotify is actually just using it to study subscribers’ in-car listening happens. The voice controlled product will be offered up to “a small group of invited Spotify Premium users” in the U.S. who will be getting a comped subscription in return.

It’s a voice controlled product that plugs into the car’s cigarette lighter — and it’s apparently just the beginning of this kind of public beta user testing. “We might do similar voice-specific tests in the future,” Spotify explains, “so don’t be surprised if you hear about ‘Voice Thing’ and ‘Home Thing.’ ”

The testing will starting in “the coming weeks,” per The Verge. Spotify is no doubt looking to address rumors about its own hardware ambitions by discussing these tests publicly. If things go well, however, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see these sorts of product being made available in a car or home near you.

Alphabet’s Wing drone deliveries are coming to Finland next month

Slowly but surely, Wing is spreading. Just last month, the one-time Google moonshot started deliveries for select locales in Australia’s capital city, Canberra. Now it’s moving into Finland, taking on that country’s own capital, Helsinki.

Drone deliveries will start just month — which may just make the “spring” timeframe it announced late last year. Like the Australian deliveries, this is considered a “pilot” program, with select goods and limited geography. Specifically things are being test driven in the Vuosaari distract — the city’s most populated.

Wing notes on its Medium page,

Vuosaari is an inspiring locale for Wing in several ways. Helsinki’s most populous district, it is bordered by water on three sides, with significant forestland alongside residential areas and a large international cargo port. The density of Vuosaari’s population makes it a great place to launch our first service to multi-family housing communities as well.

The program will kick off with two partners: gourmet super market, Herkku Food Mark and Cafe Monami. That means everything from salmon sandwiches to pastries delivered via drone.

As Wing notes, the program arrives as Helsinki is making a push to lessen dependence on car ownership by improving public transit citywide.

Amazon now sells flight tickets in India

Indians can already use Amazon to pay for their mobile bills and borrow money to purchase items, but now there’s more. This week, the ecommerce giant quietly introduced an additional feature to its shopping site: flight tickets.

Amazon has partnered with local travel service Cleartrip to add flight booking option to its payment service — Amazon Pay — in India, according to an FAQ posted on its website. The feature, first spotted by news outlet Skift, is available on its Indian website and app.

The addition of plane ticketing underscores Amazon’s growing interest in expanding its payment service in India, which is both one of its fastest-growing markets and a country it uses to test new ideas.

Since launching Amazon Pay in India in late 2016, the company has added a myriad of features to the service. Amazon Pay today allows Indians to top up their phones, cable TV subscriptions, and pay for electricity and water bills. Last month, Amazon announced support for peer-to-peer (P2P) money transfers for users of its Android app. Amazon also plans to soon let users order food from its website, local media reported last month.

The company has also inked deals with other top firms such as movie ticketing site BookMyShow, food delivery startup Swiggy, and bus ticketing startup Redbus to embed Amazon Pay into many popular Indian services. To spur its adoption, the company has offered cashback incentives to those who checkout using Amazon Pay.

The flight ticketing option is not much different. The company is promising a one-time cashback of up to Rs 2,000 ($28.20) for each first booking.

The push comes as many local companies in India and those that operate in the nation begin to mold their apps into so-called super apps. Top mobile wallet service Paytm has expanded to add a number of financial services, including as of this week a credit card, in recent years. India’s ride-hailing service Ola also entered the credit card business this week

Truecaller, an app that lets users screen for spam calls, has added messaging and payment features in India. The bundling often seems big names work together. For example, Paytm recently partnered with Zomato to test food ordering option on the mobile wallet app, a source with knowledge of the partner told TechCrunch.

Amazon’s interest in flight ticketing option in India should also help its partner ClearTrip gain a larger foothold in the nation. The company competes with giant MakeMyTrip, Booking.com, and Paytm . Google also offers flights in India, though, at the moment, that is limited to search. When it comes to transactions, users are directed to ticketing websites to complete their purchase.

China’s Tesla wannabe Xpeng starts ride-hailing service

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.

Tesla’s communications chief is leaving the automaker

Dave Arnold, Tesla’s senior director of communications, is leaving the company after two-and-half years years, according to sources familiar with the move.

Tesla confirmed to TechCrunch that Arnold was leaving in June.

“We’d like to thank Dave for his work in support of Tesla’s mission, and we wish him well,” a Tesla spokesperson said in a company-issued statement. “Dave will remain with the company for the next month to help transition his responsibilities to Keely Sulprizio, Tesla’s Director of Global Communications.”

Arnold became senior director of communications Tesla in July after the departure of Sarah O’Brien. O’Brien, who was previously at Apple, held the position at Tesla for two years. She later took a position at Facebook.

The top communications job at Tesla is a high-profile and critical role for the company, which unlike other automakers, doesn’t have a traditional advertising strategy. And thanks to the near-frenetic amount of attention that Tesla and CEO Elon Musk receives from investors and the press, it can also be a challenging and exhausting one. 

The typical stint for the role has been about two years.

Musk reaches his fervent fan base — and critics — via Twitter. His account now has some 26.5 million followers. Musk’s tweets, along with other announcements and controversies, translate to constant news coverage of the company.

That coverage has been largely responsible for driving sales. Tesla’s relationship with the media might be rocky at times. However, the attention by the press has also helped drive sales. The company has said in previous regulatory filings that “media coverage and word of mouth have been the primary drivers of our sales leads and have helped us achieve sales without traditional advertising and at relatively low marketing costs.”

Tesla issues battery software update after Hong Kong vehicle fire

Tesla has started pushing out a software update that will change battery charge and thermal management settings in Model S sedans and Model X SUVs following a fire in a parked vehicle in Hong Kong earlier this week.

The software update, which Tesla says is being done out of “an abundance of caution,” is supposed to “protect the battery and improve its longevity.” The over-the-air software update will not be made to Model 3 vehicles.

Tesla has not yet identified the cause of the fire or found any issues with the battery pack. But the company said it will act if it discovers a problem.

“The safety of our customers is our top priority, and if we do identify an issue, we will do whatever is necessary to address it,” Tesla said in a statement.

Here is the company’s statement in its entirety on the software update:

We currently have well over half a million vehicles on the road, which is more than double the number that we had at the beginning of last year, and Tesla’s team of battery experts uses that data to thoroughly investigate incidents that occur and understand the root cause. Although fire incidents involving Tesla vehicles are already extremely rare and our cars are 10 times less likely to experience a fire than a gas car, we believe the right number of incidents to aspire to is zero.

As we continue our investigation of the root cause, out of an abundance of caution, we are revising charge and thermal management settings on Model S and Model X vehicles via an over-the-air software update that will begin rolling out today, to help further protect the battery and improve battery longevity.

A Tesla Model S caught on fire March 14 while parked near a Hong Kong shopping mall. The vehicle was sitting for about a half an hour before it burst into flames. Three explosions were seen on CCTV footage, Reuters and the Apple Daily newspaper reported at the time.

Tesla was onsite to offer support to our customer and establish the facts of this incident, a Tesla spokesperson said. The investigation is ongoing.

Only a few battery models were affected on the Model S that caught on fire and the majority of the battery pack is undamaged, according to Tesla.

The company noted that the battery packs are designed so that if “in the very rare instance” a fire does occur  it spread slowly and vents heat away from the cabin. The aim is to give occupants time to exit the vehicle.

The Hong Kong fire followed video footage posted in April that appears to show a Tesla Model S smoking and then exploding while parked in a garage in Shanghai.

Demo your tech onstage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2019

Moving anything or anyone from point A to point B will never be the same, thanks to the rapid evolution taking place in mobility technology. And if you’re ready to demo your mobile-focused early-stage startup tech to this community’s top influencers, there’s no better place to do it than onstage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2019.

More than 1,000 of mobility’s top tech makers, founders, investors, engineers and researchers and will descend on San Jose, Calif. on July 10 to learn, teach, share and connect. This is your chance to show the community what you’ve got — submit your application to demo today.

We’re preparing a day-long intensive event that features world-class speakers, interviews, panel discussions, workshops, demos and, of course, networking. We’re not kidding around when we say world-class. Here are just two of the incredible speakers that will step onstage to share their vision, their journey and the lessons they learned along the way:

  • Alisyn Malek, COO and co-founder of May Mobility, an autonomous vehicle company, comes with serious bona fides. The former head of the innovation pipeline at General Motors, Malek also spent time as an investment manager at GM Ventures. Among other notable achievements, she’s been recognized as a top 10 female innovator to watch by Smithsonian in 2018 and named a top automotive professional under 35 to watch by LinkedIn in 2015.
  • Regina Clewlow is the CEO and co-founder of Populus AI, a data platform that helps cities manage the future of mobility. She brings more than a decade of transportation experience, during which she served as a research scientist and lecturer at Stanford, UC Berkeley and UC Davis. Before founding Populus, Clewlow was the director of business development and strategy at RideScout, and she was named a 40 Under 40 by Mass Transit magazine and the San Francisco Business Times.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2019 focuses on one of the most exciting and rapidly evolving tech categories on the planet, and this is your opportunity to place your early-stage startup smack dab in front of the people with the potential to take you and your business to the next level. Apply to demo your tech and join us onstage on July 10 in San Jose, Calif.

Startup Demo packages are also on sale. Demo packages include three (3) tickets and a table space in the exhibition hall for just $1,575. Book your Startup Demo Package here.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

What Uber and Lyft’s investment bankers got right

Startup CEOs heading to the public markets have a love/hate relationship with their investment bankers. On one hand, they are helpful in introducing a company to a wide range of asset managers who will hopefully hold their company’s stock for the long term, reducing price volatility and by extension, employee churn.

On the other hand, they are flagrantly expensive, costing millions of dollars in underwriting fees and related expenses.

Worse, the advice one gets from investment bankers tends to be quite vague. There is all this talk of IPO windows, timing, pricing, and more that is so squishy, particularly for the sorts of Silicon Valley CEOs that prize data over human experience. That has led to more than one experiment to try to disrupt the investment banking sector and the whole going public circus.

Uber and Lyft though are proof though that investment bankers actually are pretty smart in their advice about the pubic markets, and founders should be cautious about ignoring their words.

Let’s look at a few case studies.

First, take the vaunted “IPO window” that is discussed ad nauseam among investment bankers and the financial press which covers them. The idea of the “window” is that you must time a new public equity issue to arrive at a propitious moment in the markets. You want investors who are hungry for growth, and not battening down the hatches preparing for a recession.