The Detroit Motor Show usually follows hard on the exhaust fumes of CES this week, but a combination of coronavirus and an aborted decision to move it to the summer in 2020 means it has been two years since the last auto extravaganza.
CES picked up some of the slack this year, despite being virtual, with Mercedes-Benz showing off a new Hyperscreen panoramic dashboard and GM’s chief Mary Barra giving a keynote speech as the company teased a fleet of forthcoming electric vehicles, including new Cadillacs and a BrightDrop delivery van.
GM was making news again today, announcing Microsoft had invested in Cruise, its driverless car unit, in a $2bn funding round that gives it a $30bn valuation.
Patrick McGee in San Francisco reports Cruise was bought by GM for “more than $1bn” in 2016, when it had just 40 employees, and now has almost 2,000 staff and accounts for more than 40 per cent of GM’s $71.5bn market cap — putting it neck and neck with Google’s Waymo on valuation.
Microsoft will be contributing its Azure cloud platform to the partnership with Mary Barra saying America’s largest automotive company would “realise even more benefits from cloud computing as we launch 30 new electric vehicles globally by 2025”.
“Range anxiety” continues to be a concern for buyers of electric cars but this could be eased by a battery that can be boosted with 100 miles of charge in five minutes. Israel’s StoreDot announced today that it had achieved the milestone of releasing engineering samples of such a battery made on a mass production line in China. Extra-fast charging could reach the mass market in three years and help carmakers reduce the size of batteries, costs and range anxiety all at the same time, say experts.
More immediately, the auto industry is concerned about the shortage of semiconductors that is forcing many to cut vehicle production. Carmakers in Germany, the US and Japan are lobbying their governments to help get them moved up the chipmakers’ list of priority customers.
1. Big Tech heads may snub EU hearingThe European parliament is considering sanctions after it emerged Amazon chief Jeff Bezos and Apple’s Tim Cook were unlikely to attend a virtual hearing next month to discuss tax and competition policy, reports our Brussels bureau.
2. GDPR fines growFines imposed under the General Data Protection Regulation have increased by almost a half over the past year. A total of €272m has been levied in fines by European data protection authorities since the introduction of the GDPR in 2018. Over half of those penalties were imposed by Italy and Germany.
3. Algorithms face more regulatory scrutinyThe UK’s Competition and Markets Authority has said the algorithms that underpin online content, including news, shopping, dating and travel, should be carefully monitored by regulators. It said algorithms can harm competition in many ways, for example by reducing the choice in search results or allowing companies to promote their own products above those of rivals.
4. EduTech and fintech funding boostsAn education start-up co-founded by Euan Blair, son of the former British prime minister Tony Blair, has raised $44m from investors, valuing the business at around $200m. Multiverse provides young people with an alternative to university by matchmaking them with apprenticeships at companies and providing coaching and training. This week’s #fintechFT looks at the funding megarounds taking place in that sector.
5. Tinker, tailor, zoomer, spy?Jin Xinjiang, aka Julien Jin, a former China-based executive for Zoom has been the subject of a remarkable complaint filed by the US Department of Justice, which is pursuing him for allegedly surveilling and disrupting certain Zoom users on behalf of Chinese police and state security agents. Tom Mitchell comments on the dangers once the authorities start pressuring China-based employees.
Elaine Moore has been trying to spice up her video calls with something a little more adventurous than Zoom. She has checked out Mmhmm, which works with Zoom and other video apps to let users customise their feeds with virtual backgrounds; plus Cosmos Video, a platform that allows users to meet in virtual venues to try to recreate the feeling of working in a shared space. But she prefers Gather (pictured above), a chat platform with avatars that can walk through spaces that look like a university, the moon or Times Square. As you approach another user, their video appears; walk away and it disappears.