Tesla’s Autopilot Leader Is Out

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Tesla’s head of AI and Autopilot is leaving the company, Volvo’s CEO says there’s no doubt the EV future is coming and the electric Chevy Blazer has a lot of work to do to make a name for itself. All that and more in today’s Morning Shift for Thursday, July 14, 2022.

1st Gear: Tesla’s AI Lead Peaces Out

Andrej Karpathy has been Tesla’s head of AI and one of the top leaders in the development of Autopilot since joining the company in 2017. Now it seems that he’s moving on to greener pastures… or nothing since he hasn’t said where he’s going next.

His departure also follows Tesla laying off nearly 200 Autopilot employees who worked to train the company’s AI. From The Verge:

In March, Karpathy said that he was on a sabbatical to “rest & travel,” but had said he planned to come back to Tesla this month, according to Bloomberg.

Karpathy joined Tesla in 2017, taking over the top AI job after former Apple executive Chris Lattner’s six-month stint in the post. As AI chief, Karpathy has overseen the growth and development of Tesla’s controversial Autopilot driver assist software, though the software is currently under investigation from the federal government after Teslas using Autopilot crashed into parked emergency vehicles.

The split seems to be amicable. Karpathy tweeted about his departure, and Elon Musk publicly thanked him for his work.

It’ll be quite a sight to watch what’s next for Tesla’s Autopilot team.

2nd Gear: The EVs Are Coming, The EVs Are Coming!

Volvo’s new CEO, Jim Rowan, thinks there is little doubt of an extremely EV future. In an interview with Automotive News, the man tasked with bringing the Swedish company to an all-electric future said that impacts just about every part of the organization.

Volvo’s goal is to be selling only EVs by 2030 and to get halfway there by 2025. From Automotive News:

That direction remains solid and it’s a great strategy for us. We set ourselves an ambitious goal and when you do this you are saying there are no ifs, ands or buts. That is the direction of travel. That means every hire that we make, every investment decision that we make, every design choice for our cars that we make are geared toward achieving that strategy. That helps us as a company stay focused on where the end game is. Whereas I think some competitors are still trying to figure out how quickly they can get there and whether they can ride two horses at the same time. We don’t have that ambiguity. I can feel it in the organization. People get it and understand where we are heading.

Rowan thinks the U.S. is starting to finally lean into the shift the EVs, even at a governmental level. He basically says if Tesla can get it done, so can Volvo.

We are now looking at things through the lens of electrification. We are totally focused on battery-electric vehicles. There is no reason why that this shouldn’t be technically possible.

The first new car under Rowan’s stewardship will be the third-generation XC90.

3rd Gear: Carbon Capture Jet Fuel

A California startup that is developing uses for captured carbon dioxide is partnering with Alaska Airlines and Microsoft to figure out how to commercialize its CO2-based jet fuel. From The Wall Street Journal:

Twelve, one of a growing crop of “carbon transformation” startups, has designed an electrochemical reactor that can split carbon dioxide into chemical compounds that can be turned into fuel known as e-fuel. The company said the agreement with Alaska and Microsoft will help it work toward using its fuel in a commercial flight and eventually provide fuel for some of Microsoft’s business travel.

Twelve says its fuel offers a more than 80% cut in greenhouse-gas emissions compared with conventional fuels, including the impact of manufacturing and shipping. E-fuels can be used in regular jet engine but have to be blended with kerosene under industry standards.

Right now, there aren’t any details on finances… or how much fuel Twelve is going to provide to Alaska… or when it’ll provide fuel. That being said, it’s still pretty neat. It’s still in the testing phase, and it hasn’t made the fuel, called E-Jet, on a commercial scale.

The agreement with Twelve marks the latest stage in Microsoft’s effort to reduce the carbon footprint of its employees’ air travel. Along with companies including Meta Platforms Inc. and Bank of America Corp., the software giant is a member of the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance, or SABA, a business coalition that pushes for technologies and policies that would enable low-carbon aviation.

Something holding E-fuel back from wider use is the prices. A gallon can range anywhere from $5.70 to $10.80 (in 2021). In contrast, kerosene jet fuel only costs about $1.85 per gallon.

4th Gear: “Witness Me!” – Chevy Blazer EV

When the electric Chevy Blazer hits showroom floors next year, it’s going to be in a very crowded segment… all of which are running for second place behind the domineering Tesla Model Y.

The EV SUV segment is projected to double in size to 2 million vehicles annually by 2026, and by that time, more than 90 entrants could be in the segment. Analysts believe the Model Y will still be leading the way four years from now, and it’s going to make it a bit hard for the Blazer to stand out from the crowd. From Reuters:

Facing this competitive challenge, Chevrolet dealers will start taking customer reservations for the electric Blazer on July 18, months ahead of the promised Spring 2023 arrival of the vehicles.

Brad Sowers, owner of Jim Butler Auto group, which includes three Chevrolet stores in Missouri, said customers are already asking about the electric Blazer, and the electric Equinox SUV that GM has said will start at $30,000 – about half the price of a Model Y. Sowers expects the Blazer’s price to start at $36,000.

GM’s decision to start promoting the electric Blazer so far before its launch could help Chevy dealers “keep the buzz going” as Ford and other brands rev up sales of new EVs they have today, Chevy dealers said.

Keeping the buzz alive for a few years on a car that doesn’t really exist yet is a tall order, especially when competitors like Ford’s Mustang Mach-E have been around for a while now.

Godspeed, Chevy. Godspeed. If the Blazer is anything like the Cadillac Lyriq, it’ll be very good.

5th Gear: The Ol’ Mechanics Dilema

Some mechanics are worried they may not have much business in just 10 years time. Why? Electric vehicles. The vast majority of mechanics across the country are trained to work on internal combustion engined cars. With the advent of EVs, they either need to adapt, die or learn how to live with a lot fewer serviceable vehicles entering their bays. From The Detroit Free Press:

[It] highlights a dilemma facing thousands of mechanics across the country whose livelihoods have been built around cars powered by gasoline and diesel fuel. Muffler repairs, spark plug replacements and oil changes were some of the jobs that kept almost 704,000 automotive service technicians and mechanics working in the United States in 2020, according to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But many of those staple tasks of grease-stained garages won’t be needed in an EV future where cars rely on electric motors rather than internal combustion engines. EVs don’t use pistons or many of the other parts seen in a gas-powered car, and they don’t have tailpipes.

Vehicle maintenance won’t end — think worn tires and wiper blades — but the work of the mechanic or technician will lean even more toward the technical than it does today.

It’s anyone’s guess as to what happens to these shops when EVs become the majority of new car sales. There will always be work for mechanics, but there may not necessarily be the same volume or type of work they’ve come to expect. Good luck, fellas.

Reverse: The Ballad Of Billy The Kid

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