News

Amazon reveals the Zoox autonomous e-taxi, with no steering wheel and 16 hours of battery

‘Zoox’ may sound like the villain from a straight-to-VHS Toy Story ripoff, but it’s actually a six-year-old self-driving startup purchased by Amazon in June. They’ve just revealed the prototype of a FSD bi-directional electric taxi, with no steering wheel and a huge battery life.

The vehicle is a mint-green box with large protruding tyres, and looks a bit like a child’s drawing of a car. You’d be forgiven for mistaking it for the Citroen Ami, another not-quite-car that’s looking to change the face of shared transport:

But in a video released on Monday, CEO Aicha Evans and CTO Jesse Levinson demonstrated using their app to hail a prototype Zoox taxi and go for a ride around San Francisco, showcasing their confidence in the vehicle’s autonomous driving. 

Zoox’s taxi features a motor at each end and four-wheel steering, meaning it can travel in either direction, at a maximum of 75 mph. ‘Sensor pods’ on each corner have a 270-degree field of vision. At a mini 3.63m long, the interior is maxed out to allow four passengers seated face-to-face, reminiscent of a train carriage. The battery pack is a massive 133 kWh, which will allow it to drive day and night, for up to 16 hours on a single charge. 

The company has focused on highlighting safety, stating that the Zoox taxi has “over 100 safety innovations not featured in conventional cars”, including an airbag that envelops passengers from all sides. And if needs be, Zoox can take manual control remotely, communicating with passengers in real time. You’ll also have the option to blur images captured by the on-board camera, if privacy is a concern.

Zoox is far from the first to promise fully self-driving taxis in the near future, but as we’ve covered, the gap between aspiration and reality seems to be prolonging delays. “Autonomous driving is hard, because you have to get hundreds, if not thousands, of things right at the very same time. But if you do all that, it actually feels pretty easy,” says Levinson in the video voiceover. Hmm. Profound? 

Currently, the company hasn’t specified when the taxis are going into operation, except that it wouldn’t be as soon as 2021. There’s no confirmed price point as of yet, but it’s described as “affordable”, pitched to compete with Uber and the like. The vehicles are currently being tested in various US cities, so provided that Zoox’s safety promises hold true, it could soon be possible to hail a ride home from a night out without subjecting an unamused driver to your drunken singing.

Fully electric aeroplanes are on the horizon

In Australia, the electrification specialists Magnix have modified the first all-electric, zero-emission drive aircraft approved for national use.

The Cessna 208 Caravan is a nine-seater aircraft, usually used for pilot training, commuter flights, and freight. So it’s hardly a jumbo jet, but Magnix’s modified version of the Caravan already set records as the largest electric plane ever to complete its maiden flight without a hitch last May in the US. The Australian modification needs to complete certification by the country’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority, which is likely to take them until 2023. When completed, though, it would mean partner Sydney Seaplanes could use an electric Cessna in place of an ordinary one at any given time. 

So far, so inconsequential-sounding, if small domestic flights in Oz don’t play a major role in your life, which I suspect is the case for most of us. The significant bit, basically, is that at the moment, electric planes are generally only privately available. Slovenian maker Pipistrel is on the forefront of developments, with their Velis Electro two-seater becoming the first electric plane to receive European approval earlier this year, and the Alpha Electro similarly approved for purchase in the US (provided you already have a pilot’s license and $140,000 going spare). 

If the Cessna passes its two-year test, it would set a precedent for completely electric planes approved for use on a regular commercial basis – one we’d hope other nations would follow. 2020 has seen an increase in electromobility interest from airlines, probably anticipating further carbon restrictions in the near future. JetBlue has invested $250 million into electric aviation over the last three years, and EasyJet has plans for a fleet of electric planes covering shorter routes by 2030. Even the US military has its boot in the door, providing funding and testing for electric cargo drones. 

Much like cars, it’s expected that electric planes will eventually work out cheaper, thanks to fewer moving parts, less maintenance, and of course electricity working out much cheaper than jet fuel. But building all-new planes and getting them approved is an unsurprisingly lengthy and expensive process. 

There have already been a few bumps in the road. Eviation’s all-electric Alice prototype caught fire during ground tests in January, likely due to overheating batteries – which we guess is better than bursting into flames in the sky, but still a bit alarming.

And, of course, even successful models like the Cessna are only suitable for short flights in small aircrafts, which don’t make up the majority of the aviation industry’s net 2% contribution to global CO2 emissions. As such, it’s probably hybrids that will make the real difference to airline travel – but we’ve got a long way to go before any of this is the norm.

Tesla’s new leasing information has subtle implications about self-driving taxi reality

Tesla sent an email to all its leasees last night, announcing a “new leasing experience” to be launched in the next few months.

Currently, only car owners are able to manage their ownership through the Account portal on the EV giant’s website, but the mass email states that they are “moving the lease experience” to a similar platform. This means that from early 2021, Tesla leaseholders will be able to make their payments online, extend or transfer their lease, and – most significantly – purchase their car at the end of it.

The direct lease programme was launched shortly after the Model S was released, and was then expanded to include Tesla’s other vehicles. Currently, holders of a Model S or X are able to buy their vehicles at the end of their lease, as is standard, but Models 3 and Y had to be returned – as they were intended to be used for the fleet of self-driving taxis that Elon Musk promised would be on the road in 2020. 

Now, the fact that Model 3 and Y leasees have been told they can also buy their vehicles suggests that, like so many of Elon’s promises, this goal has been quietly pushed back, if not totally set aside. 

Speaking in April 2019, the Tesla CEO assured investors and analysts that the taxi service would be approved and on the road by the end of this year. Although some devotees think a big announcement could still be coming before 2020 is up, there’s no denying time is running out. 

Earlier this year, Tesla did release an extremely select beta for their FSD (Full Self-Driving) mode. And on the 29th November, Elon replied to a concerned fan on twitter asking about its wider release:

Probably going to a wider beta in ~2 weeks

@elonmusk

As of the time of writing, that two weeks is nearly up. Of course, it’s possible this announcement is still imminent, but it’s not much of a stretch to say Elon has a history of vast overconfidence. Equally, on the leasing front, Tesla could have simply sent out a general email that doesn’t apply to all leasees, and might still have big plans for Models 3 and Y.

Tesla has been promising FSD is just around the corner for many years, and the reality is that getting it to a point where it’s safe enough to be approved on actual roads would be an incredibly complex, unprecedented endeavour. But hey, there are still 20 days left in 2020 – we’re sure they’ll sort it out. 

The UK’s first fully electric service station is now open

Gridserve’s Electric Forecourt®, the first service station in the UK entirely for electric vehicles, has opened near Braintree in Essex. Powered by renewable energy, with a host of conveniences and the ability to lease an EV on site, it’s intended as the first of 100 such sites to roll out across the country over the next five years. 

The Forecourt boasts 36 rapid chargers which cover the whole range of electric cars, and even features “future-proof” chargers that can go up to 350KW – far beyond the needs of any current vehicle except possibly the Porsche Taycan. It’s also competitively priced at 24p/kwh, and will reportedly be even cheaper for subscribers to their future membership scheme. 

Right now, though, you can drive up, plug in, and pay instantly with contactless. Then it’s just a matter of kicking back and enjoying the shiny on-site amenities. Along with the essentials – toilets and free WiFi – there’s also a Costa, WH Smith, Booths, Gourmade, and a post office to browse, as well as a kids’ play area, business meeting pods, and even a “wellbeing area” where you can counteract some of those sedentary hours on an electricity-generating exercise bike. 

Gridserve Founder and CEO Toddington Harper told Fully Charged’s Robert Llewellyn that their aim isn’t just to remove one of the biggest roadblocks to adopting electricity – range and charging anxiety – but to make charging into a positive experience, both cheaper and more enjoyable than filling up an ICE car. 

What we’re trying to do is … use the window of time that we have on this planet, while we’re in a position to do something about it, to do our very best to prevent runaway climate change. And to do that, people need to be the change.

Toddington Harper

The site is powered by a network of hybrid solar farms which produces 10 GWh of energy a year, as well as on-site overheard solar panels and a 6 MWh battery for when the sun isn’t shining. (For perspective, that’s enough to power the average EV for 24,000 miles, so you’re probably covered.) They’re able to make income by selling excess energy back to the grid when demand isn’t high. 

ICE drivers will be welcome too, with 24 bays available, and a broad range of EVs are on display at the on-site showroom for lease, with charging included in the price. Additionally, Gridserve have committed to planting 100 trees for every vehicle they lease, which they’ve calculated to be carbon-neutral. 

Gridserve and Hitachi Capital UK Plc. are planning to roll out 100 more Electric Forecourt stations across the country over the next five years, with a £1 billion budget. That’s some seriously ambitious speed, but if successful, it would totally change the landscape of nationwide EV accessibility – not to mention cost, if prices stay as low. 

Although turning the hallmark of mediocrity that is the service station into an actively enjoyable experience is probably a bit optimistic, what Gridserve are bringing is exactly what the electric movement needs: low-cost services that aren’t a headache to access. You have to admire them for walking the walk. So for those of us outside Essex, bring on the other 99!

The car they don’t want you to buy – Dacia Spring Electric

The Dacia Spring Electric is here to change the way we drive in cities. It’s an electric car with a small footprint, but a big old heart… and a big boot too. In this video, Rich covers all the vital stats and info on a car that could become to cars what Lime Bikes are to bicycles.

Rather than a typical cute hatchback, this Romanian city car is an SUV crossover. Still, it’s no-nonsense, accessible, and incredibly affordable. With a brake horsepower of 44 – yep, that’s 44, not 144 – a range of 140 miles, and a 78mph maximum, the Spring Electric might sound limited. But this isn’t the car for your cross-country road trip, it’s the car with the boot space for your big Tesco run. Why burn the planet’s resources to sit in traffic?

Dacia’s slogan is ‘You do the maths’, and if we’ve done ours right, it’s the cheapest electric car on the European market. What’s more, we think they may be claiming that come its release in Spring 2021, it’ll be the cheapest car on the market, period – not just electric. If so, this would be huge for bringing in new buyers switching over from ICE. 

However, the one catch is that the Spring Electric is only being released in Spring for shared ownership and rideshares – you won’t be able to buy one until Autumn. But do you really need to own a car? It seems part of Dacia’s solution to a growing problem would be the normalisation of hopping in for a quick trip when you need it, then leaving it to charge for the next person. 

So no, the Spring Electric is nothing extraordinary. But it is reliable and affordable, and it’s necessary steps like these that will make it easier to change the wasteful way we’re currently using vehicles.

Is the VW ID.3 good enough to outsell the Tesla Model 3?

5 months ago, we made a video in which we declared that the new VW ID.3 could well go on to become the most important car of this decade. In this video, we finally put one to the test – and find out whether or not we were totally full of s**t.

Volkswagen have lofty goals for the ID.3, so named because it’s meant to represent the third generation of VW, with the Beetle and Golf being the previous two. No pressure, then. They intend it to sell tons, meaning it needs to be totally inoffensive, but still good. So is it?

Appearance-wise, it’s a bit stubby, although that’s thanks to the new electric-dedicated MEB platform. It allows for a short overhang with no need for an engine, and wheels out to the edges, meaning more cabin space inside, as well as great visibility with a super-wide windscreen. But the ID.3 still has the obligatory fancy electric touch, in this case with eyeball-like LED headlights which rotate to greet you when you unlock. 

What the MEB also allows for is a variety of models. The top-tier one clocks in at 201bhp, with a 336-mile range, and costs under £40,000 – Tesla Model 3 money, in other words. The entry-level alternative has 148bhp, a 263-mile range (very respectable), and is less than £30,000. (And the one we’re testing is the first edition, which comes somewhere in between – but that’s irrelevant since they’re already sold out.)

Inside, there’s tons of space, with a large boot, and nice airy Honda E vibes. Storage-wise, it’s excellent. You’ve got USB ports for the front and back seats, a great phone holder with wireless charging, and the driving control display moves with the wheel, which is a nice touch. Then there’s the ‘ID Light’ – an LED bar which pulses across the bottom of the windscreen, with various colours and patterns that have different indications (e.g. red when you’re about to rear end someone). 

What’s most surprising about the cabin is that there are almost no physical buttons. Everything’s adjusted via touch screen or voice control (although the voice control, like almost all such aspirational tech, works better in theory than practise). This would work if the touch screen sliders were intuitive, but they’re not. The same goes for the infotainment system; once you’re used to these features, they work, but they’re not that beginner-friendly.

On to the driving – it’s both easy and fun, with the platform advantages from the MEB providing nice low weight, and suspension that’s firm but not too firm. There’s tons of steering lock, and rear-wheel drive which feels right. It’s quick, but not Tesla quick, achieving 0-60 in about 7 seconds. 

Overall: although Jack wasn’t sure about the ID.3 at first, it grew on him fast. VW seem to have oddly dropped the ball on a few things they should be good at – the simple cabins that made the Golf so successful come to mind – but they’ve done really well at the difficult bits. Get past the odd controls, and it’s a really well-rounded car with everything that matters most: a competitive price, lots of space, well-built, a great range, and easy to drive. 

As a plus, the MEB platform is set to underpin tons of future EVs from VW, which hopefully means the problem areas will be easy fixes. If you’re mulling over getting one, it might be worth waiting until the next release, when they’re likely to have ironed out the details – for example a few more buttons.

We think the ID.3 has the potential to do hugely well, and it’s already outselling Tesla’s Model 3 in such electric-forward countries as Norway and the Netherlands. We’re sticking by our resolution that this could well be the defining EV of the decade. Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments on Youtube with your thoughts. 

WARNING: This video will make you want a Super73 RX

As the viewer of this Super73 RX video, you assume full responsibility if you end up coveting one after watching. Viewing is at the viewer’s risk. 

Kol, Eilis and Jack took the new Super73 RX for a spin in Central London, pulling wheelies and taking epic photos. Shout out to Fully Charged bike shop for letting us take the Super73s for a spin. 

On a quest to find the best spots for moody and dramatic Instagram shots in the London rain, the team first stopped in at Fully Charged and learned the difference between the two models they’d be testing out – the Super73 S2 and its newer iteration, the RX. Here are the basics:

S2

£3,300

Front suspension 

Custom S73 fat tyres

75+mile range

1200W motor

RX

£4,100

Full suspension

Custom S73 fat tyres

75+mile range

2000W motor

The main difference is the RX’s back suspension providing an even smoother ride, but it also has a more powerful motor. It’s important to note that the throttle for both models – the part that makes them go without any pedalling – is illegal in the UK, but nonetheless they’re both amazing bikes to ride.

But on to the really important stuff: how cool can you look posing on them for Instagram shots? We tested out a few different locations, starting with a moody low-down city shot of Jack on the RX, then a dramatic angle for Eilis on the S2 at the Barbican. Finally, cameraman Kol showed off his serious skills on the RX, culminating in this impressive wheelie shot. 

Here’s the three shots we ended up with. We think they’re all killer, but we’re a bit biased, so let us know which you think is the best in the comments on Youtube or Instagram.

If the title of this article is correct, and you’re interested in grabbing one, pay our mates at Fully Charged a visit – https://www.fullycharged.com/ Use the code ELECTRO50 at checkout to get £50 worth of accessories FOC when you spend over £1000.

The 5 BEST electric bikes in the world right now – E-bike guide

The festive season is upon us and you might be considering giving the glorious gift of pedal assist to a loved one – or just buying one for yourself. But with so many options out there where do you start? 

Electroheads’ own Eilis paid a visit to Fully Charged in Central London to hear from the e-bike experts which top 5 bikes you NEED to take home with you. 

Max from Fully Charged took us through each of the top offerings available, starting with the Gocycle GX. Costing £2,899, with a 250W motor and a 50-mile range, this bike is ideal for the urban commuter, tube-rider or flat-dweller; it’s lightweight, foldable, and super-maneuverable. What’s more, the universal sizing means it can accommodate anyone from 4’11” to 6’6”, meaning you can share it with your mate, partner, or family. Plus there’s the Boost button to give you an extra burst of energy.

Next was the Super 73 S2, coming in at £3,300, with a 250W motor and a range of over 75 miles. As well as boasting celebrity endorsements from the likes of Jack Black and Will Smith, this model has the advantage of a meaty set of tyres enabling you to take it over all types of terrain, with a huge battery that’ll only need a weekly charge. It can get up to impressive speeds as well, maxing out at 28 mph (if you’ve got the private land, of course).

Thirdly we have the Moustache XRoad 1, with an entry level price point of £2,399, a 250W motor and a 65-mile range. Sporty yet comfortable, this is a jack-of-all-trades bike, and the advantage of the Moustache series is their use of the Bosch electric system, which provides impressive power and range, and is intuitive to use. 

Next up is the Riese and Muller Tinker, costing £3,799, with a 250W motor and an “extensive” (basically, massive) range. It’s on the expensive end, but for good reason – with seat and front suspension, almost no maintenance, a powerful light and adjustable stem, this is a super-quiet, smooth ride with a 25kg carrying capacity. Narrow and nimble, it’s ideal for the inner city. 

Finally, we have the Desiknio SP Urban, at £3,459, with a 250W motor and a 60-mile range. The e-bike that looks like a classic bicycle, it’s incredibly lightweight and smooth, with the battery and motor hidden away, and almost no maintenance. Each one is handcrafted in Spain, so bear in mind that prices can vary massively as they’re totally customisable. 

So which bike did Eilis end up riding away on? You’ll just have to watch to find out…

(PROMO CODE ALERT: Buying an e-bike with Fully Charged? Use the code ELECTRO50 at checkout to get £50 worth of accessories FOC when you spend over £1000.)

FINALLY – A Polestar 2 review that DOESN’T mention Tesla!

The Polestar 2 is a highly impressive electric family car with solid range – so naturally, EVERY video review has fixated on comparing it to a certain other ubiquitous EV, made by a bloke called Elon. We challenged Jack to do an entire review without mentioning T***a. Here’s how it went. 

Spoilers: in our humble opinion, it’s one of the best EVs out there. Starting with the exterior, you’ve got a difficult-to-categorise SUV-crossover design that sports stylish touches, but doesn’t look like it’s about to teleport us to Mars. Polestar is Volvo’s electric sub-brand, so in many ways it resembles a Volvo – but that’s a good thing. Volvos are cool now. 

But more than that, it’s complemented with details such as the gold brake calipers, distinctive headlight design, and futuristic light bar at the back – yes, we know every EV has a light bar now, but that’s because they look awesome – plus there’s that lovely crease. (Um… look at the car again and you’ll see what we mean.)

The standout feature on the Polestar 2 is its cabin, which is clean, minimalistic, super-spacious and really comfortable, creating the feeling that you’re in a luxury vehicle without any weird spaceship vibes. As a bonus, it’s 100% vegan. There’s amazing sound quality, and, in a stroke of genius that other EVs will no doubt soon be copying, rather than trying to design their own clunky OS, the infotainment system runs on Android.

One odd feature is that underneath its huge bonnet there’s a weirdly tiny “frunk” in the middle, leaving you wondering what else is happening down there. But it’s compensated for by a massive boot – so massive there’s even another boot underneath the boot. Like the little mouth inside the Alien alien, but much more helpful. There’s also a sweeping panoramic sunroof, a great reversing camera, and frameless wing mirrors (which doesn’t sound like much until you try going back to life without them).

On the road, Jack tries taking it from 0-60 mph in under 5 seconds – that’s fast in any car, and positively alarming in a machine of this size. It handles surprisingly well; Polestar used to be Volvo’s racing division, and it shows. There’s also fancy suspension which you can get underneath the chassis and adjust yourself if you want to. Which… nobody will, ever, but hey. With full-time four wheel drive, there’s an even power split, providing plenty of grip. It’s also very easy to get going – with no key and no start button, instead, the seat simply senses your unique buttocks and is ready for action.

Overall, as you’ve already guessed, we love it. The Polestar 2 is a great blend of the familiar and the futuristic. And not to go back on our promise of not mentioning the T-word, but seriously – there’s room for more than one electric car on the market, and no reason to be pitting all of them against each other when they’re all bringing about a positive change. The more differing high-quality options there are, all the better for the electric revolution.

Hyundai Motor Group Reveals Electric-Global Modular Platform

The Hyundai Motor Group, which includes Hyundai and Kia, amongst others, has unveiled the first ever BEV-dedicated platform with a 25-minute detailed video reveal

The platform is known as, er… E-GMP, which we’d have to guess nobody spent too long saying out loud. It’ll be used in their next generation of models beginning in 2021, forming the basis of Hyundai’s new Ioniq 5 and 6 electric cars. By 2025, though, the group says they’ll launch 23 all-electric cars, 11 of which will be dedicated EVs. Hyundai Motor Group have evidently put a lot of work into ensuring the platform is both universal and comprehensive, and being designed with BEVs in mind gives it distinct advantages, such as much more interior space and a more powerful high-speed electric motor. 

We took a look at the slightly bonkers concept version of one of the E-GMP’s confirmed offerings – a sedan modestly known as the Prophecy – back in our coverage of some of the most exciting concept EVs coming soon:

The top stats they’ve promised look exciting: though of course we won’t be seeing performances like this on every model, the platform should allow top speeds of up to 260 km/h (162 mph), with acceleration of 0-100 km/h in less than 3.5 seconds, and a range of over 500 kilometres (311 miles) on a single charge. 

Perhaps the real game-changer, though, is the charge time: with a high-powered DC battery charging at 300 kW (800 V) as standard, they claim an 80% recharge is possible in just 18 minutes. While that’s probably only under the best of circumstances, it would reduce one of the biggest perceived shortcomings of driving a dedicated EV. 

Other shiny features include the Integrated Charging Control Unit (ICCU), which is not only multi-charging, able to switch between 800 and 400 V, but also bi-directional – i.e. you can use it to charge not just your phone, but even your home appliances or other vehicles. It’ll also feature a compact but powerful battery pack located beneath the floor, allowing more storage and space to stretch.