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Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s next big bet rides on better batteries

Inside Telecom Staff

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk's next big bet rides on better batteries

Tesla is working on new battery technology that CEO Elon Musk says will enable the company within the next three years to make sleeker, more affordable cars that can travel dramatically longer distances on a single charge.

But the battery breakthroughs that Musk unveiled Tuesday at a highly anticipated event didn’t impress investors. They were hoping Tesla’s technology would mark an even bigger leap forward and propel the company’s soaring stock to even greater heights.

Tesla’s shares shed more than 6% in extended trading after Musk’s presentation. That deepened a downturn that began during Tuesday’s regular trading session as investors began to brace for a potential letdown. Musk raised those worries with a series of tweets Monday warning that Tesla’s new battery technology might not be ready for high-volume production until 2022.

Musk reiterated that timetable during Tuesday’s showcase and then added it might take up to three years before the battery technology translates into a new Tesla model selling for $25,000. That would be a dramatic markdown from Tesla’s cheapest car now, the Model 3, a sedan that starts at $35,000 but usually ends up costing buyers more than $40,000.

“We don’t have a truly affordable car and that is something we want in the future,” Musk said during an event shaped by the restrictions imposed by a pandemic that requires people to keep their distance.

Besides lowering the price, Musk promised the new battery technology would help Tesla reduce the size of its vehicles by about 10% and extend their range by 56%. That projection implies the Tesla cars using the new batteries will be able to travel 500 miles (800 kilometers) or more on a single charge, surpassing the distance many gas-combustion cars can traverse before needing to refuel.

Musk took the stage before a mostly online audience, although there was a small group of shareholders who won a lottery for the right to sit in Tesla vehicles parked in a lot near the company’s Fremont, California, factory located about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco.

“It is a little hard to read the room with everyone in cars,” Musk joked as he began his presentation during an early phase of the event that was devoted to Tesla’s annual meeting of shareholders.

But the shareholders in attendance frequently beeped their horns to provide a different form of applause as Musk rattled off Tesla’s accomplishments since the company held its last annual meeting 15 months ago.

Since then, Tesla has posted four consecutive quarters of profits to reverse a long history of losses, while boosting its production and laying the groundwork for future expansion by opening or beginning work on three more factories in Shanghai, Berlin and Austin, Texas. All that progress has caused Tesla’s stock price to soar by fivefold so far this year and boost the company’s market value to nearly $400 billion.

No one has benefited more from the run-up than Musk, who has seen his estimated wealth climbed to $89 billion — the fifth-largest fortune in the world, based on estimates by Forbes magazine.

“What happens when companies get bigger is things tend to slow down. We are going to speed up,” Musk said Tuesday.

He said he believes Tesla will remain a step ahead of its competition in the electric vehicle market and persuade more consumers to abandon gas-combustion cars with its new battery technology. The breakthroughs that he outlined Tuesday involve some highly technical changes to the composition and design of batteries, along with new manufacturing processes.

Even as Tesla tries to set new standards in batteries, Musk made it clear that the company will also continue to rely on Panasonic and other suppliers.

Musk has a history of being too ambitious in his promises. For instance, 17 months ago, he bragged that Tesla was on the verge of breakthroughs in autonomous driving technology that would enable the company to deploy a fleet of robotic taxis by the end of this year.

He has since backpedaled slightly from that goal, although Tuesday he said he believes Tesla’s $25,000 car will be capable to driving on its own.

SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP) — By MICHAEL LIEDTKE and TOM KRISHER AP Business Writers.


Krisher reported from Detroit.

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UK to launch new watchdog next year to police tech giants

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UK to launch new watchdog next year to police tech giants

By KELVIN CHAN AP Business Writer

LONDON (AP) — Britain plans to create a new watchdog to police big tech companies including Google and Facebook to counter their market dominance and prevent them from exploiting consumers and small businesses.

The U.K. government said Friday that it’s setting up a “Digital Markets Unit” next year to enforce a new code of conduct governing the behavior of tech giants that dominate the online advertising market.

The Digital Markets Unit, scheduled to launch in April, will oversee a new regulatory regime for tech companies that’s aimed at spurring more competition.

The measures were foreshadowed in findings by former Obama economic adviser Jason Furman, who was commissioned by the U.K. Treasury to carry out a review of the digital economy.

It’s part of a wider push by governments in the U.S. and Europe to constrain the power of big tech companies amid concern about their outsize influence. The European Union this week unveiled proposals to wrest control of data from tech companies and is set to release details next month of a sweeping overhaul of digital regulations aimed at preventing online gatekeepers from stifling competition. In the U.S., authorities are pursuing an antitrust case against Google and lawmakers have proposed breaking up big tech companies.

U.K. Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said online platforms bring benefits to society, “but there is growing consensus in the U.K. and abroad that the concentration of power among a small number of tech companies is curtailing growth of the sector, reducing innovation and having negative impacts on the people and businesses that rely on them.”

The government still needs to consult on how the digital markets unit will operate and approve legislation for it.

Under the new code, tech companies would have to be more transparent about how they use consumers’ data. They would have to let users choose whether to receive personalised advertising, and wouldn’t be allowed to make it harder for customers to use rival platforms.

The Digital Markets Unit could be given the power to suspend, block or reverse any decisions made by big tech companies, and order them to take certain actions to comply with the code. If companies don’t comply, the watchdog could fine them, though the maximum penalty hasn’t yet been spelled out.

Google said online tools competition in the ad tech industry has been increasing and noted it gives users tools to manage and control their data.

“We support an approach that benefits people, businesses and society and we look forward to working constructively with the Digital Markets Unit so that everyone can make the most of the internet,” said Ronan Harris, the company’s vice president for U.K. and Ireland.

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AstraZeneca manufacturing error clouds vaccine study results

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AstraZeneca and Oxford University on Wednesday acknowledged a manufacturing error that is raising questions about preliminary results of their experimental COVID-19 vaccine.

A statement describing the error came days after the company and the university described the shots as “highly effective” and made no mention of why some study participants didn’t receive as much vaccine in the first of two shots as expected.

In a surprise, the group of volunteers that got a lower dose seemed to be much better protected than the volunteers who got two full doses. In the low-dose group, AstraZeneca said, the vaccine appeared to be 90% effective. In the group that got two full doses, the vaccine appeared to be 62% effective. Combined, the drugmakers said the vaccine appeared to be 70% effective. But the way in which the results were arrived at and reported by the companies has led to pointed questions from experts.

The partial results announced Monday are from large ongoing studies in the U.K. and Brazil designed to determine the optimal dose of vaccine, as well as examine safety and effectiveness. Multiple combinations and doses were tried in the volunteers. They were compared to others who were given a meningitis vaccine or a saline shot.

Did Researchers Mean to Give a Half Dose?

Before they begin their research, scientists spell out all the steps they are taking, and how they will analyze the results. Any deviation from that protocol can put the results in question.

In a statement Wednesday, Oxford University said some of the vials used in the trial didn’t have the right concentration of vaccine so some volunteers got a half dose. The university said that it discussed the problem with regulators, and agreed to complete the late stage trial with two groups. The manufacturing problem has been corrected, according to the statement.

What About the Results Themselves?

Experts say the relatively small number of people in the low dose group makes it difficult to know if the effectiveness seen in the group is real or a statistical quirk. Some 2,741 people received a half dose of the vaccine followed by a full dose, AstraZeneca said. A total of 8,895 people received two full doses.

Another factor: none of the people in the low-dose group were over 55 years old. Younger people tend to mount a stronger immune response than older people, so it could be that the youth of the participants in the low-dose group is why it looked more effective, not the size of the dose.

Another point of confusion comes from a decision to pool results from two groups of participants who received different dosing levels to reach an average 70% effectiveness, said David Salisbury, and associate fellow of the global health program at the Chatham House think tank.

“You’ve taken two studies for which different doses were used and come up with a composite that doesn’t represent either of the doses,” he said of the figure. “I think many people are having trouble with that.”

Why Would a Smaller First Dose Be More Effective?

Oxford researchers say they aren’t certain and they are working to uncover the reason.

Sarah Gilbert, one of the Oxford scientists leading the research, said the answer is probably related to providing exactly the right amount of vaccine to trigger the best immune response.

“It’s the Goldilocks amount that you want, I think, not too little and not too much. Too much could give you a poor quality response as well,” she said. “So you want just the right amount and it’s a bit hit and miss when you’re trying to go quickly to get that perfect first time.”

What Are the Next Steps?

Details of the trial results will be published in medical journals and provided to U.K. regulators so they can decide whether to authorize distribution of the vaccine. Those reports will include a detailed breakdown that includes demographic and other information about who got sick in each group, and give a more complete picture of how effective the vaccine is.

Moncef Slaoui, who leads the U.S. coronavirus vaccine program Operation Warp Speed, said Tuesday in a call with reporters that U.S. officials are trying to determine what immune response the vaccine produced, and may decide to modify the AstraZeneca study in the U.S. to include a half dose.

“But we want it to be based on data and science,” he said.

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EU plans new rules giving Europeans more control of data

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The European Union is laying out new standards for data giving Europeans more control over their personal information as it seeks to counter the power of U.S. and Chinese tech companies.

The EU’s executive Commission on Wednesday proposed new rules on the handling of data that would aim to give people, businesses and government bodies the confidence to share their information in a European data market.

The proposed legislation would would spell out how industrial and government data – normally off limits because of intellectual property rights, commercial confidentiality or privacy rights – could be shared to help society or boost the economy. The bloc’s strict privacy rules would still apply, with mechanisms in place to preserve confidentiality or anonymity.

The aim is to drive innovation in areas such as health care or climate change by allowing data to be more easily shared with companies or researchers.

Individuals could choose to donate their data for altruistic reasons – for example, a person with a rare disease providing their health information to medical researchers. Or people could allow access for a fee or use of a service. The new rules could pose a challenge to big tech companies like Google and Facebook that currently make billions in revenue by using data to sell ads and other services.

The proposal, known as the Digital Governance Act, calls for raising trust in data sharing by setting up a new system involving neutral and trustworthy middlemen who act as brokers of pools of data.

Europeans would be able to get more control of their data through “personal data spaces” that have tools and services that let them decide who can access their data and for what purpose.

“The framework offers an alternative model to the current data handling practices offered by big tech platforms,” the EU’s Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said at a press briefing in Brussels.

Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, said the regulations would help Europe become the world’s No. 1 “data continent.”

“With the ever-growing role of industrial data in our economy, Europe needs an open yet sovereign Single Market for data,” he said.

LONDON (AP) — By KELVIN CHAN Associated Press.

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