California-based electric car startup Faraday Future might have a strange new ally in its roiling fight with main investor Evergrande: the Trump administration. The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) issued an update on Wednesday to its “Section 301” investigation into China’s alleged practices of intellectual property theft and technology transfer, and Faraday Future was listed among the many examples cited in the refreshed report.
The USTR says in the report that Evergrande’s $2 billion pledge to Faraday Future is an “illustrative example” of how the Chinese government “directs and unfairly facilitates the systematic investment in, and acquisition of, US companies and assets by Chinese companies to obtain cutting-edge technologies and intellectual property.” News of the inclusion of Faraday Future was first reported by the South China Morning Post.
Faraday Future has made similar claims across the last month, arguing that Evergrande shut off funding to push the EV startup into bankruptcy, making it possible to walk away with the IP, which includes some 400 patents. Access to Faraday Future’s patents, as The Verge first reported in April, was a major component of the investment.
China’s government has pushed the country’s domestic car industry to heavily invest in “new energy vehicles” in recent years, and so deals like the one with Faraday Future were encouraged, even as overseas investments trended downward, according to the report. The report also highlights Evergrande chairman Hui Ka Yan’s close connections with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as evidence that the Chinese government may have influenced the deal, including a speech where he said that “everything that Evergrande and I have, it is all given by the Party, given by the State, given by society.”
“The US government has now taken notice of Evergrande’s conduct toward Faraday,” Brian Timmons, a partner with Quinn Emanuel, who represents Faraday in the dispute with Evergrande, said in a statement. “Faraday is on the brink of producing a revolutionary electric vehicle, and Evergrande’s actions are jeopardizing both the introduction of this new technology in the U.S. and the jobs of more than a thousand American workers.” Representatives for Faraday Future, Evergrande, and the USTR did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Evergrande invested in Faraday Future at the end of 2017, during a time when the EV startup was facing the real threat of running out of cash. The Chinese real estate conglomerate committed $2 billion to Faraday Future, which was to be doled out over the course of three years. The EV startup received the first installment of $800 million by early spring.
But by July, basically all of that money was gone. More than $400 million went to getting the company’s California factory ready for production of its luxury SUV by the end of 2018, as well as hiring between 300 and 400 new employees, while $130 million was earmarked for paying back suppliers, recent court documents showed. About $200 million was also directed at bringing production online in China.
Facing another cash shortage, Faraday Future CEO and founder Jia Yueting — who has been blacklisted in China because of massive debts he racked up at another company he founded, LeEco — asked Evergrande for an advance on the $1.2 billion remaining on the contract. Evergrande initially agreed to let $700 million loose in small installments through the end of the year, and in return was promised that Jia would distance himself from the company, according to recently revealed court documents.
But Evergrande never made those new payments, claiming that Jia had not truly divested himself from the company, and that he was still operating as a “shadow director.”
While the two sides argued back and forth in private over this, Faraday Future once again started to miss payments to suppliers. In an October filing with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Evergrande outed Jia’s plan to break the investment deal, and accused him of “manipulating” the board of directors set up after the investment.
The companies continued to trade blows in public, and Faraday Future was awarded some relief: a Hong Kong arbitrator decided in October that the startup could seek new funding. But in the meantime, Faraday Future had to resort to salary cuts, layoffs, and eventually a furlough for hundreds of employees that is still in effect. A co-founder and a number of other significant executives all resigned, and while the startup says it is drawing interest from investors, it only has enough cash in the bank to last through mid-December, The Verge previously reported.
China’s cavalier treatment of intellectual property rights has been a touchy subject in the auto industry for years. The government long mandated that any foreign automaker who wanted to make cars inside the country had to partner with a Chinese manufacturer, and could not own more than 50 percent of the joint venture. This helped the government quickly build up knowledge and skill at big state-owned automakers as China transformed from a primarily agrarian society to an industrial one. But foreign car companies — and, now, the Trump administration — often complained about these close relationships and the risk they presented for protecting assets like patents and trade secrets.
China recently announced plans to relax some of those joint venture rules. But the new USTR report claims that the CCP is already establishing roadblocks that will incentivize foreign automakers to stay close to Chinese automakers, regardless of the rule change. In the meantime, China’s domestic car industry has boomed in recent years, especially for electric and hybrid vehicles. The country leads the world in EV sales, and nearly 500 new EV startups have cropped up, according to a recent report.
Amazon has brought its Alexa voice assistant and a range of compatible Echo devices to Mexico. The Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Plus, Echo Spot, and Amazon Smart Plug are all available to pre-order today, and shipping will start next week. The company is also bringing Amazon Music Unlimited and Prime Music to Mexico today, right in time for people to ask their new Echo devices to play music.
Amazon launched Alexa in Spain last month, but the company says the voice assistant has now been updated to work with Mexican Spanish and makes use of local information. Amazon is the last major company to arrive in this market —Apple started selling the HomePod in Spain and Mexico last month, while the Google Home and Home Mini were released in the two countries back in June.
Samsung took the wraps off its new Infinity Flex Display device this morning, the first foldable hybrid gadget from the company that transforms from a phone into a tablet. Samsung says it plans to go into mass production for just the display in the “matter of months,” but we don’t really know much of anything about it beyond the brief glimpse we got onstage today. It’s a total mystery what it will cost, and we know very little about how the software will really function and just how many different display orientations it supports.
At a session this afternoon at its developer conference, Samsung did reveal some new information about the planned device, including pixel density, screen size, and aspect ratio in both the folded and unfolded modes, as reported by CNET’s Shara Tibken:
— Shara Tibken (@sharatibken) November 7, 2018
Pixel density is a standard 420 ppi, which is not the highest out there, but perfectly fine. Resolution when folded is 840 x 1960, but 1536 x 2152 when unfolded. The aspect ratios, however, are the more interesting specs here. The folded, phone version of the Infinity Flex has a 4.58-inch display with an aspect ratio of 21:9, which would make it pretty much the tallest device on the market and probably not the greatest screen for game-playing, video viewing, or anything like that. The unfolded, tablet version is clearly the primary mode for those types of activities, as it has a more standard 4.2:3 aspect ratio and a screen size of 7.3 inches.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about how this device is going to work, and how many iterations it might take for Samsung and other phone makers to really nail this form factor. (My guess is it will take a lot.) Thankfully, Google announced Android support for “foldables,” as we’re calling them, earlier this morning in conjunction with Samsung’s big reveal, so the initial software support is already there and it will only continue to get more robust over time.
In fact, news aggregation app Flipboard has already signed on to develop a special version of its app that modifies itself depending on which mode the Infinity Flex is running in:
.@Flipboard is working on an app for @Samsung’s new foldable phone. When closed, you’d see a single pane of info. When you unfold the phone, you get a bigger panel (right where you left off on the closed display) and multiwindows #SDC18 pic.twitter.com/08PiAUvY3I
— Shara Tibken (@sharatibken) November 7, 2018
Flipboard certainly won’t be the only developer to sign on. Considering Samsung is launching a new, three-app multitasking feature it’s calling Multi Active Window, it’s likely at least some other big-name developers will jump at the chance to create responsive and modular versions of their mobile apps to be among first to capitalize on the foldable trend.
AT&T plans to alert over a dozen customers in the next week or two that their service will be terminated due to copyright infringement, anonymous sources told Axios. This is one of the first instances AT&T has ended a customer’s service over piracy issues.
AT&T told The Verge today in a statement:
Content owners notified us when they believed they had evidence that an internet account was sharing copyrighted material unlawfully. Based on the notices we received, we identified the customer on the account and share with them the information we received. We also reached out to the customer to educate them about copyright infringement and offer assistance to help prevent the activity from continuing. A small number of customers who continue to receive additional copyright infringement notifications from content owners despite our efforts to educate them, will have their service discontinued.
These dozen-plus customers have received at least nine warnings that they might be infringing on copyrights before AT&T could cancel their service, as AT&T’s new policies state. AT&T told Axios that owners of the content notified the company when they found an internet connection was illegally distributing copyrighted material. The customers who did not modify their behavior accordingly will now have their services terminated.
In June, AT&T acquired Time Warner, which also gave it ownership of an enormous content network, WarnerMedia. An anonymous source told Axios that it wasn’t immediately clear if WarnerMedia was the entity issuing piracy accusations this time around.
Before the acquisition, it was unclear if AT&T ever had to warn customers directly about copyright infringement issues. It was definitely rare for people to be kicked off their service providers over piracy, unless the scale and distribution of the copyrighted materials was massive.
Update November 6th, 7:55PM ET: This article has been updated with comment from AT&T and a correction that the piracy policies have been in place for years.
GM made a fun surprise announcement at this past week’s Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) trade show: an all-electric Chevrolet Camaro concept with 700 horsepower meant to bust out a quarter mile run in about nine seconds. And unlike EV performance cars like the NIO EP9 or the upcoming second-generation Tesla Roadster, which are purpose-built, the Camaro concept appears to be a beautiful, cobbled-together Frankenstein’s monster of a car.
The car, dubbed the eCOPO Concept (after the original COPO Camaro special order performance models from the late 1960s) looks like any other modern Camaro from the outside, even in electric blue paint. Inside is much different. For instance, the eCOPO is powered by a combination of BorgWarner electric motors, which are the same ones used in these Daimler electric trucks.
The motors draw power from an 800-volt battery pack, which is twice as much as you’d find in a Chevy Bolt. But the eCOPO doesn’t use a “skateboard” style battery pack that takes up the whole floor of the car, which is pretty much the standard for EVs these days. Instead, the pack is split into four 200-volt modules that are tucked into different spots around the car’s frame: two sit in the rear-seat area, and two are in the trunk, with one over the rear axle and one taking up the spot where the spare tire usually goes.
GM says distributing the mass of the batteries like this helps improve performance on a drag strip, as it gives the car a 56 percent rear weight bias, which helps on launch. But it also shows how much of a sort of clever workaround effort this was on the part of Hancock and Lane, an electric drag racing team that helped Chevy build the car.
“This project exemplifies Chevrolet and General Motors’ commitment to engaging young minds in STEM education,” Russ O’Blenes, the director of performance variants, parts, and motorsports at GM, said in a statement. “It also represents our goal of a world with zero emissions, with the next generation of engineers and scientists who will help us get there.”
GM’s brands aren’t involved in any of the current EV racing series like Formula E, but the eCOPO might be a sign that they’re thinking about it as the company moves its fleet toward hybrid and electric power. And they’re approaching it in an interesting way that might make electric racing a bit more accessible.
“I like that they’re using proven off-the-shelf components and that they’re pushing electric vehicles into motorsports,” automotive journalist Bozi Tatarevic tells The Verge. “The motor that they are using is obviously stout since Daimler chose the same one for the eCanter. The inverters they are using are widely available and match up with their claims of running 800 volts.”
Perhaps most important, Tatarevic says, is that the housing for the electric motors matches that of GM’s combustion LS motors, which are supremely popular. This “offers an opportunity for other race cars to adapt the same system if they decide to offer it as a crate package,” Tatarevic says, theoretically making it easier for people to explore EV drag racing beyond just bringing their Tesla to the track.
O’Blenes admitted as much in the official press release. “The possibilities are intriguing and suggest a whole new world for racers,” he said. “Chevrolet pioneered the concept of the high-performance crate engine right around the time the original COPO Camaro models were created, and the eCOPO project points to a future that could include electric crate motors for racing, or even your street rod. We’re not there yet, but it’s something we’re exploring.”
The eCOPO is far from the first muscle car that’s been retrofitted with electric power. Three years ago we met a man who turned his 1968 Ford Mustang into an 800-horsepower electric monster. A Maryland-based company called Genovation recently transformed a modern Chevy Corvette into a similarly powerful EV. Seeing a company support the effort to make a car like this, though, signals that there’s interest in electric racing beyond purpose-built solutions like Formula E’s cars.
In fact, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) praised the concept this week. “Chevrolet’s dedication to innovation and performance is evident in this new concept vehicle,” NHRA president Glen Cromwell said in a statement. “NHRA has been discussing and exploring how electric cars are evolving to determine how they will shape the future of drag racing. The new COPO Camaro is an exciting development in that process.”
JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon says he doesn’t “really give a shit” about bitcoin, his latest harsh comment on the popular cryptocurrency. Dimon spoke out about bitcoin yesterday at an Axios conference, after keeping silent for a period of time following an apology for calling bitcoin a “fraud.”
Last September, Dimon called out bitcoin in searing comments, added that, “It won’t end well. Someone will get killed.” But by January, he had backpedalled, saying that he regretted his comments and acknowledging that “the blockchain is real” technology. He kept quiet about the subject until August, when he again declared bitcoin was “a scam.”
Despite the CEO’s negative outlook on bitcoin, JP Morgan is still investing time and money into related technology. The company announced last week that it had built a blockchain platform called Quorum, based on Ethereum, for enterprise customers. The company proposes to offer digital tokens backed by gold bars and diamonds on the platform.
The conflict between cryptocurrency traders and traditional banks and financial figures like JP Morgan and Warren Buffett has been ongoing. Dimon’s comments encapsulate how the relationship is still sour, as traditional banking institutions tend to be wary of how financially volatile cryptocurrency is and, if blockchain ever achieves its goals, the decentralized financial structures that it could create. Bitcoin has lost a bit of its shine since prices hit an all-time high of over $20,000 earlier this year.
Dimon’s comments also happen to coincide with Bitcoin’s tenth anniversary. On this day 10 years ago, someone or a collective of people going by the name Satoshi Nakamoto published the bitcoin whitepaper, detailing a new “peer-to-peer” electronic cash system. Since then, bitcoin’s rising popularity has spawned many other cryptocurrencies, including Ethereum, Litecoin, and Monero.
Amazon is apparently narrowing in on its location for its second headquarters: Crystal City, Virginia, on the outskirts of Washington DC in Northern Virginia. The Washington Post says that the company has “held advanced discussions” that are “more detailed” than similar talks happening in other candidate locations in the immediate region and around the country.
The Post says that the talks have included discussions about which buildings the company can occupy, and how quickly it can more employees there. It cites two people “close to the process” that indicate that Amazon could likely move “several hundred employees” into a pair of office buildings within nine months if the city is ultimately selected.
Sources also tell the Post that the announcement could come this month, following the midterm elections next week. The paper does caution that the company could be conducting “similar discussions” with other cities. But talks are apparently far enough along that JBG Smith, the city’s top real estate developer, has pulled some of its property off the market.
Amazon launched its bid for a second North American headquarters last year, with plans to invest around $5 billion and 50,000 jobs. In January, it announced that it had narrowed its pool of finalists down to 20 locations: Atlanta, Georgia; Austin, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Indianapolis, Indiana; Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; Montgomery County, Maryland; Nashville, Tennessee; Newark, New Jersey; New York City, New York; Northern Virginia, Virginia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Raleigh, North Carolina; Toronto, Ontario, and Washington, DC.
Amazon is reportedly close to announcing its final decision, and while Washington DC has been rumored to be a frontrunner, Northern Virginia’s Crystal City located just minutes away.
Amazon launched a new delivery option for Prime members in the US today, just ahead of the holiday gift-giving season. The invite-only program is curiously called Amazon Day, not to be mistaken for Amazon’s yearly Prime Day shopping event, as spotted by CNET.
Through Amazon Day, you can set the day of the week when you prefer all of your shipments to arrive. So far, the program is only open to a small group of users by invite, although Amazon plans to add more users in the coming months. You’ll be able to see if you were invited through the Amazon homepage and see the option in checkout. Amazon told The Verge in a statement, “Amazon is always innovating and looking for new ways to surprise and delight our customers, and we’re excited to be testing a new service aimed at making the delivery experience more convenient for customers.”
For instance, if you always work from home on Fridays, you can set it up so that all of the packages that you order throughout the week arrive on Friday (as long as the orders are made at least two days before). If you’re in the program, the option should appear when you check out and pick your shipping option.
If you join the Amazon Day program, you’ll still be able to use other available options like free two-day shipping on each order. And if weekend deliveries are available in your area, you could also set Saturday to be your designated delivery day.
The Amazon Day option is mostly coming to products that are already fulfilled by Prime two-day shipping. It’s a way for users to cut down on excess packaging since orders will be shipped in fewer boxes rather than one bag and box per item. It could also streamline orders to make the replenishing of certain products, like paper towels or other household goods, more predictable.
At the same time, Amazon’s bottom line could also benefit from the decrease in packaging and multiple shipments. Amazon reported higher fulfillment costs this quarter by nearly $2 billion, and part of that is the cost of packaging. If the company can shave down that number while keeping the number of orders rising, it could significantly improve its retail profit margins, which have always been a small sliver of net sales.
IBM announced this afternoon that it will acquire open-source software company Red Hat for $34 billion. The deal will help IBM expand its reach as an enterprise cloud computing provider.
Red Hat describes itself as a leading provider of open source software and services for enterprise customers, focusing on cloud computing and Linux servers. In 2012, it became the first company providing open-source software to surpass $1 billion in revenue. It will now become a part of IBM’s Hybrid Cloud division.
In its release, IBM says that its services will allow more businesses to shift their operations online, and that the proprietary nature of existing cloud systems means that it’s harder to move and secure data from system to system.
IBM says that the acquisition will allow it to expand its cloud computing offerings. Chairman, President and CEO Ginni Rometty says that “most companies today are only 20 percent along their cloud journey, renting [computer] power to cut costs. The next 80 percent is about unlocking real business value and driving growth.” For its part, Red Hat President and CEO Jim Whitehurst noted that IBM will allow his company reach a far wider audience, and that IBM will preserving the company’s “unwavering commitment to open source innovation.”
According to Reuters, the deal is the largest that IBM has undertaken, and CBNC notes that IBM recently reported slowing earnings recently, as it works to catch up to the likes of Microsoft and Amazon’s own enterprise cloud business. Once a major hardware manufacturer, the company has shifted focus since the 1990s to focus on enterprise and web hosting services.