Tesla wants to install chargers at the office

Tesla expects to sell 100,000 electric vehicles in 2018. But electric vehicles don’t make much sense unless chargers are easily accessible and convenient. That’s why Tesla is introducing the Workplace Charging program.

It will allow offices and business to apply for a Wall Connector to be installed in the company garage or parking lot. And, except for the actual electricity used by employees charging their Teslas, the Wall Connector and installation will be free to the property managers.

This isn’t too different from Tesla’s Destination Charging program, which offers chargers at restaurants, resorts, and hotels with free installation, as long as property owners cover the cost of electricity. However, those chargers are displayed on Tesla’s navigation systems and available to use publicly.

The Workplace Charging program is meant to serve only employees who work in the buildings whose property managers or businesses apply for the program. So don’t expect to roll up to some random HQ and juice up the Model 3.

Tesla provided the following statement to Electrek:

As Tesla’s fleet continues to grow, it is more important than ever for our customers to be able to easily charge their cars where they park. The most convenient way to charge is to plug in overnight at home, and for most people, this is all that is needed. For others, such as those who live in an apartment, Tesla is introducing its new Workplace Charging program. Charging at work is simple and convenient, just plug in and your car is charged by the time you’re done for the day.

For qualified employers or commercial property managers who choose to provide an EV charging option, Tesla will review, donate their Tesla Wall Connectors and provide installation assistance. Energy costs will be the responsibility of the property.

Interested businesses can sign up for the program on Tesla’s website.

Featured Image: Hadrian/Shutterstock

Honcker raises at least $15M from IAC as it takes on the car-leasing-on-demand market

The car leasing and rental market is forecast to be worth $124 billion in 2022, and today a startup that is hoping to get a piece of that action by making the process of leasing a car easier is announcing a Series A in its effort to get there.

Honcker — a New York-based startup that acts as an aggregator and search engine for leasing services, and platform for would-be customers to consolidate their data and application process in one place — has raised funding from IAC, the media and marketplace giant behind services like Angie’s List and Tinder, as well as Daily Beast and Vimeo.

Along with the funding, Honcker is releasing a new version of its app with more parameters to search for vehicles and get recommendations, a facility to break or extend leases and add co-signers to leases if needed.

Honcker’s new round comes in the form of a Series A and Honcker is not disclosing many details, but from what we understand the value is around $15 million — a relatively modest amount when you consider that Fair, another hopeful in the flexible ownership/leasing business, has secured up to $1 billion in debt and hundreds of millions in equity investments, plus some acquisitions, for its efforts.

Honcker’s path to growth is a little different, coming on a more modest funding base and with a different structure. Since raising a seed round of $3.6 million in October 2017 from Lead Edge Capital and Evolution, the company has had some interesting traction.

The company, founder and CEO Nathan Hecht told me, is focused on leasing new cars only and working with existing dealerships rather than holding the inventory itself (which is one way of keeping down costs). Today there are over 250 on the platform across eight states, including Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada and New York.

Because of its connection to existing car leasing companies, who ultimately hold a customer’s contract, Honcker’s users also typically follow the general leasing schedule, which is typically around 36 months, although Hecht says it’s getting shorter, and the breaking/changing option in the new app should also influence that.

The company has been growing 25 percent month-over-month in terms of transactions on the platform, and has up to now grown with almost no marketing spend and by word-of-mouth.

Honcker got its start, Hecht said, when he was working on a different startup (interestingly, another one based on temporality but of a very different kind: Dstrux was designed to create messages for different social media platforms that would self-destruct).

“I walked into a car dealership to try to lease a car,” he said. “I sat there a whole day but still went home without a car.”

He said he discovered a lot of shortcomings. The process was not only laborious, but didn’t favor the kind of choice that consumers want to have today: you had to know what car make you wanted from the start, but what if you were searching for a minivan and were open to different makes and models?

Hecht also noticed that there were no decent leasing search engines online, in the way that there are for shorter-term car rentals. “And I couldn’t get a monthly payment on the lease, they wanted additional credit applications and more in what turned out to be a long process of choosing vehicle and figuring out the paperwork.”

He said he left the dealership and reconvened with his team and got them to agree to pivot.

There is a clear opportunity to improve the leasing experience these days, and in the future. Many are questioning whether outright car ownership will be as palatable in a future where there are other transportation alternatives, and autonomous and other smart vehicles become potentially too cost-prohibitive to own.

But even if, as Hecht claims, the leasing market is the fastest growing segment of the new-car market right now, itself worth $160 billion in his estimation (that is, higher than the figures I quote at the start of this article from a research firm) that doesn’t mean that all companies going to to try to fix this now are hitting home runs. Among the many that have stumbled have included Beepi, Evercar and Breeze.

Hecht believes, however, that if you run the company “very lean” and stick to a specific goal without rampant expansion and over-leveraging with too much inventory, it’s possible to find success.

And it seems that IAC agrees. The larger firm has been an investor in startups with mixed success. One of its big bets, the TV startup Aereo, was shut down by regulators (but IAC isn’t giving up: it’s also backing Starry from the same founder). On the other hand, it’s had a wild run so far with Tinder, which was wholly funded and incubated by IAC.

Although IAC has a lot of first-hand experience in two-sided marketplaces in its own stables, this is the first time it’s getting involved (via this minority stake) in a car marketplace. Automotive, however, seems to be something it’s getting more interested in, perhaps feeling a little left out of the huge growth of Uber and Lyft. Last year, it also invested in a Series B for trucking startup Convoy, which is also backed by Y Combinator, Greylock Partners, Jeff Bezos and more.

The company has set itself a goal of getting involved in more of these kinds of opportunities to tackle new markets. “This year we will look to plant the seeds for future growth through the acquisition of smaller, earlier stage assets and to incubate opportunities both inside and adjacent to our existing businesses,” IAC CEO Joey Levin wrote in his shareholders’ letter earlier this month.

UPS is working on a fleet of 50 custom-built electric delivery trucks

UPS will work with partner Workhorse, a battery-electric transportation technology company, to develop and deploy a fleet of 50 custom-built plug-in electric delivery trucks with zero emissions.

The goal is to make trucks that cost as much to buy as do traditional fuel-based delivery vehicles – even without taking into account subsidies. The Workhorse designed-vehicles, will be all-electric, and are designed to run on a single charge throughout a normal delivery day and then charge back up overnight.

Workhorse says they’ll have a 100 mile range, which is a good fit for in-city routes, and the trucks will first enter testing in urban areas in various parts of the U.S., including Atlanta, Dallas, and LA. The test will lead to fine-tuning, which will lead to a larger fleet deployment targeting 2019.

UPS’ goal with this is to help meet its corporate renewable energy and carbon footprint goals, as well as to hopefully reap benefits in terms of vehicle operation efficiency, and the cost of maintenance (which should be far less using all-electric trucks).

Featured Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

SpaceX misses catching Falcon 9 rocket fairing with a giant net on a big ship

SpaceX nearly succeeded in catching the fairing used in its PAZ Falcon 9 mission on Thursday, using a barge called ‘Mr. Steven’ that uses four giant arms with a net strung between them to secure the used nosecone once it floats back from space. The fairing missed the boat by just a few hundred meters, but did land intact in the water, at least.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk noted that the attempt was underway shortly after launch, and the fairing’s parafoil, which helps it decelerate and return to Earth at a speed that makes it possible for the barge to catch it without damage, deployed as planned.

Prior approaches to recovering the fairing used on SpaceX missions have had mixed success, and one key element was that previously the protective covering, which houses the rocket’s payload and separates once the rocket clears the atmosphere, basically just landed in the ocean (as it ended up doing today) and SpaceX would attempt to pull it out. Catching it on board the barge takes that risky element of the process out of the mix.

Why even bother? Cost. The fairing is a $6 million part, which is around a tenth of SpaceX’s total rocket launch cost with an expendable configuration. If it can reduce or eliminate that by reusing fairings as often as possible, that’s a big savings and a key ingredient towards SpaceX’s broader goals of efficient, reusable rockets.

SpaceX successfully launches Falcon 9 carrying Starlink demo satellites

SpaceX has successfully launched a Falcon 9 from SLC-4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base today, its first launch since its successful Falcon Heavy test earlier this month. The launch took off early Wednesday morning, after being rescheduled a couple of times from an initial target of this past weekend.

The launch was primarily designed to bring the PAZ satellite to orbit (which was deployed as planned into a low Earth, sun-synchronous polar orbit), a satellite for a Spanish customer that’s designed to provide geocommunications and radar imaging for both government and private commercial customers. This launch had a secondary purpose, however, and one that might ultimately be more important to SpaceX’s long-term goals.

SpaceX packed two demonstration micro satellites for its planned internet broadband service (which Elon Musk confided via tweet it will call ‘Starlink’). These will perform tests required before it’s certified to operate the service, which it hopes to use to generate revenue by signing up subscribers to its internet service, which will hopefully be globe-spanning once complete.

We will also see SpaceX attempt to recover the fairing used on this mission, using a new barge designed for the purpose called ‘Mr. Steven.’ The vessel is basically a large landing platform with a net strung across its surface, which is intended to capture the fairing as it returns to Earth gently, assisted by special parachutes. The fairing, which is the two-part ‘shield’ that protects the rocket’s cargo atop the Falcon 9, is a part that could save SpaceX as much as $6 million per launch if it’s able to be consistently reused.

We’ll update this post when we find out more about that aspect of today’s launch.

SpaceX did not attempt to recover the first stage booster used during today’s launch, which was a flight proven Falcon 9 first stage used during a mission last August.

Watch SpaceX launch its first broadband internet satellites to space live here

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SpaceX is making a second attempt to launch its PAZ mission today, which includes the PAZ satellite from client Hisdesat, and is set for launch during an instantaneous window at 6:17 AM PST, or 9:17 AM EST. The mission was scrubbed on Wednesday due to high upper level winds, and reset for this morning.

The Hisdesat payload is a satellite with radar instrumentation on board, with a planned service mission of providing monitoring activities for both government and commercial clients over an intended linespace of five and a half years. The primary payload isn’t the whole story, however – this rocket will also be carrying two test satellites for SpaceX’s global broadband satellite internet service.

These two satellites will pave the way for a constellation of nearly 12,000 satellites in orbit eventually that will aim to deliver affordable, fast and low lag broadband internet to underserved areas the world over. SpaceX hopes to use this service, which it calls “Starlink,” to add an additional revenue stream to its business beyond launch operations, helping it fiscally pursue its goal of making humans an interplanetary species with missions to Mars and beyond.

The live stream above will begin around 15 minutes prior to the target launch time, or at around 6 AM PST (9 AM EST).

Travel activities platform KKDay raises $10.5M led by Japanese travel firm H.I.S.

KKDay, a startup from Taiwan that operates a platform that helps travelers to Asia find local activities, has raised $10.5 million.

The funding round was led by Japanese travel operator H.I.S. with participation from existing backer MindWorks Ventures, the Hong Kong-based VC.

KKDay is one of a number of services that cater to Asia’s burgeoning regional tourism market. The idea is to allow travelers to find experiences, tours and travel in their destination city, for example, a river cruise, museum visit, or city sightseeing tour. Since we all have a smartphone these days, the KKDay lets people browse their options and book their choices ahead of time or on-the-ground.

The target is to digitize and then take a slice of the travel tour and activities market that is predicted to grow by one-third to reach $183 billion by 2020, according to travel-focused analyst firm Phocuswright.

To get there, KKDay is turning to a traditional player for help.

H.I.S. was established in 1980 and today it employs close to 17,000 people with offices in over 150 cities in some-80 countries worldwide. The company, which recorded more than $5.5 billion in annual sales, is an old school, bricks and mortar travel firm, whereas three-year-old KKDay is a new, digital entrant that’s predominantly Asia-focused. Hence there is plenty of potential to work together.

“H.I.S. is not just a financial investor, but is valued as a strategic investor. Their product can use our platform and internet channel to expand their business globally,” KKDay CEO Ming Chen told TechCrunch in an interview.

On the reverse side, KKDay benefits by boosting its inventory with H.I.S.’s decades-old business. On the customer support-side, its network of country-based offices and agents can give KKDay customers a physical point of call if they need it, or simply the peace of mind that comes with that.

The match sounds ideal, so why not go the full hog and bring the two companies together? That’s not happening, according to KKDay CFO Weichun Liu.

“We made it very clear that this partnership is a means for both us to do what we are best at. There is no discussion on merger and acquisition so far,” she explained to TechCrunch.

But Liu believes that the relationship is essentially preparation for when large online travel giants enter the travel activity space.

“If a Priceline or Expedia jumps into the market, they have more resources,” she explained. “We will try to get an early start on the finer and more difficult parts to reach first [so that] even when the bigger guys enter the market we are ahead of the game.”

Ahead of the game means taking control of the experiences themselves rather than just selling them. Already, Liu said, KKDay tailors its packages by using its own people — for example as tour guides and by renting buses itself — or works closely with contractors, but H.I.M.’s firepower and presence can supercharge that.

To illustrate the ultimate goal, Liu turns to e-commerce where, she said, consumers are happier to buy products through Amazon rather than direct from retailers.

“Amazon means a certain level of quality and guarantee, that’s our aspiration,” she said.

Longer-term goals aside, KKDay is initially looking to grow its customer numbers in China and among Western markets like Europe and the U.S.. As of now, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea are its largest countries, according to CEO Chen, while the H.I.M. alliance is likely to massively boost its Japan-based business.

India, another huge population, isn’t in the plans right now because outbound travel numbers from the country are lower than the likes of Korea and Japan, Liu explained.

China may be a hugely challenging market, but Chen is convinced that there’s potential for travel products if they are presented and done right.

“We can provide very high-quality products. Young Chinese today expect high-quality travel services, not only those that are cheap. They once were price sensitive before but they are now more affluent,” he said.

Beyond more traditional travel services, KKDay’s most direct rival is Klook, a business that is predominantly focused on China. The Hong Kong-based startup has raised over $90 million, including a recent $60 million Series C round in October, from investors that include Goldman Sachs, Sequoia and Matrix Partners.

Klook said it clocked five million bookings in 2016 and its claims to process one million bookings per month. KKDay doesn’t provide booking numbers, but the service claims to host over 10,000 experiences from 500-plus cities in more than 80 countries.

Featured Image: Hamza Butt/Flickr (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)