TIME Autos

Watch BMW Test Driverless Cars and Virtual Reality

With tech companies on its heel, the top premium car maker taps the Internet to try and win the next race

Automakers have never had so much in common with Silicon Valley. Car makers are increasingly relying on technology to develop, market and sell cars to consumers. In fact, most of the world’s major auto companies established research and development labs of one sort or another in the Bay Area. BMW and Volkswagen set up shop there in 1998, General Motors in 2006, Toyota and Ford in 2012, Renault-Nissan in 2013. The automotive industry spends some $100 billion globally on R&D annually, about 16% of the world’s total for all industries.

Likewise, Bay Area firms are also increasingly interested in autos. Ever since the dawn of the personal computer, Silicon Valley has been inventing or reinventing new gadgets: the music player, the phone, the computer first as a phone and, later, as a tablet. Amazon remade the mall. Netflix and YouTube remade TV. Elon Musk’s Tesla notwithstanding, the last great remaining American preoccupation that tech hasn’t widely tackled is the automobile.

MORE: See Inside BMW’s Secret Design Lab

But automakers have a significantly more difficult task integrating technology into their vehicles. Where a new version of an Android phone, for example, might be reasonably expected to last its owner two or three years, most cars are on the roads for decades. That means built-in technology has to last over a much longer time fame. Legislation, as the fights over Tesla’s dealership model and Google’s self-driving cars have shown, can be limiting. And some high-tech bells and whistles simply never take. For every innovation like GPS navigation, there’s a numeric key pad.

In this video, TIME looks at how the top-selling premium manufacturer BMW is exploring new technology ranging from self-driving vehicles to virtual reality in an effort to keep pace with the competition.

TIME Apple

Apple Exec: The Car Is the ‘Ultimate Mobile Device’

Amid rumors of an Apple Car

Apple Senior Vice President of Operations Jeff Williams hinted on Wednesday the company is interested in doing more with cars.

At the Code Conference in California, an Apple shareholder asked Williams if Apple has its sights set on the auto industry. “The car is the ultimate mobile device, isn’t it?” said Williams, according to Business Insider. “We explore all kinds of categories. We’ll certainly continue to look at those, and evaluate where we can make a huge difference.”

Williams’ response comes amid rumors that Apple may want to take on Tesla with an electric car of its own. The efforts are supposedly nicknamed Project Titan.

Still, Apple has other car plans in the works, too: Its new CarPlay software replaces vehicles’ infotainment systems with an iPhone-style interface.

Williams also spoke on Wednesday about third-party apps coming to the Apple Watch this fall.

TIME innovations

Watch What It’s Like to Get Blasted to 100MPH in 1.2 Seconds

We'd almost definitely vomit

If you ever wondered what it’s like to get blasted off a launch pad going at 100 miles per hour, this SpaceX video does the trick.

The video, posted Friday, shows point-of-view footage of SpaceX’s May 6 pad abort test of its Crew Dragon vehicle. Essentially, the private space company, headed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, was testing a system that could safely eject astronauts aboard a just-launched rocket should anything go wrong.

The Dragon vehicle reached 100mph in 1.2 seconds, before topping out at a peak velocity of 345mph.

“The successful Pad Abort Test was the first flight test of SpaceX’s revolutionary launch abort system, and the data captured here will be critical in preparing Crew Dragon for its first human missions in 2017,” SpaceX wrote following the successful test.

In March, SpaceX launched the world’s first completely electric satellites into space.

MONEY Autos

A Pop-Up Tesla Store Just Started Its US Tour

Tesla Model S
Tesla Motors Tesla Model S

First top: Santa Barbara

Electric-car maker Tesla Motors TESLA MOTORS INC. TSLA 1.62% is already known for its unique approach to selling its cars, bypassing dealerships and instead selling its vehicles directly to consumers in company-owned retail locations in upscale shopping areas. But it wants to push the boundaries of what consumers are accustomed to in the auto retail experience even further. Showing off the flexibility of Tesla’s direct-to-consumer model, the electric-car maker is meeting customers at popular summer locations with a touring, full-fledged store experience — a feat auto dealers may have difficulty matching.

Tesla’s mobile store
When transported, Tesla’s new mobile store fits on a single flatbed truck and is about the size of four shipping containers sitting side by side. Once expanded and transformed, the store is about 20 feet deep and 34.5 feet wide.

“Designed in-house, the shipping container arrives and unfolds to double its size in just a few hours,” Tesla said in a media release. “The mobility and convenience of the design allows Tesla to bring our unique retail approach to customers in new locations where we do not yet have a brick-and-mortar location.”

The store will highlight Model S components, including the Model S’s electric powertrain and battery architecture. People visiting the store will be able to “learn about electric driving with enticing visuals and interactive displays,” as well as to test-drive the Model S.

Just in time for the busy Memorial Day weekend shopping, Tesla’s mobile container store landed in Santa Barbara, California, today, and will have its public grand opening tomorrow. After finishing up the month in Santa Barbara, Tesla will then transport its mobile store to its next stop in the Hamptons.

As Twitter user @TonyJGiannini pointed out, Tesla’s mobile store is already touring in Europe. Mostly slipping under the radar in the media, the pop-up store made an appearance in England at the Bluewater shopping center in November and December.

There are three of these mobile stores in Europe and one in the U.S. The three in Europe are currently in Denmark, France, and Switzerland. Going forward, Tesla could very well expand its investment in these stores, Tesla spokeswoman Alexis Georgeson told The Motley Fool.

Tesla’s secret weapon?
During Tesla’s fourth-quarter earnings call, CEO Elon Musk said the company had “a secret weapon on the demand side that we’ll probably start to deploy later this year for demand generation,” adding that it could be a “good weapon against the dealers.”

Is this unique touring retail experience the company’s “secret weapon”? It’s quite possible.

It would be difficult for traditional automakers to set up similar direct-to-consumer pop-up shops to sell their vehicles. Doing so would likely require the vehicle manufacturer to refer visitors to nearby dealers for test drives and sales, in order not to interfere with the local dealer network. Dealers, too, could have trouble matching Tesla’s mobile store. They probably wouldn’t want to set up shop far from their dealership, since the majority of dealer profits come from servicing cars — not auto sales.

There’s good reason to believe Tesla’s investment in mobile stores is likely to pay off handsomely

First, Tesla’s demand is arguably limited by the company’s small retail footprint. So, every additional store is important.

Not spending a dime on advertising, Tesla relies heavily on its limited yet fast-growing retail locations for sales. Touring its mobile stores in high-foot-traffic locations could help Tesla expand its retail footprint to key areas without having to take the time to set up a physical brick-and-mortar location.

Second, Tesla’s spending on retail locations to date has proven to be a lucrative investment. Musk said last year that sales per square foot for its retail stores are double Apple’s. Apple was previously thought to have the highest sales per square foot in the world.

Last, customer education plays an important role in Tesla’s selling process. In Tesla stores, customers ask employees many questions about driving electrically. By bringing mobile locations to popular destinations where Tesla doesn’t have a retail footprint, the company can educate more people who are unfamiliar with the company’s fully electric vehicles.

Tesla’s growing footprint of retail locations has been a key driver in sales growth. Model S deliveries were up 56% year over year in the company’s most recent quarter.

Is Tesla’s production catching up with demand?
With Tesla constantly ramping up the pace of production for the Model S, the company’s further investment in these mobile stores could be a sign that its production is finally catching up to demand. While Tesla did say orders continued to grow in Q1 and that it expects global order growth for Model S to continue to rise throughout the year, perhaps the level and rate of Tesla’s production ramp-up is getting closer to the level and rate of order growth.

If Tesla’s production ramp-up for Model S is catching up with orders, will an investment in mobile stores help Tesla achieve its goal to increase Model S sales by about 50% for the entire year?

More From Motley Fool:

MONEY Autos

Why Consumer Reports Says Tesla’s New $127,000 Car Is ‘Undriveable’

Tesla's high-end Model S is already drawing criticism, before reviewers even set foot in the car. Namely, because they can't.

MONEY Tech

3 Key Lessons From the New Elon Musk Biography

Bloomberg via Getty Images

A look at the new biography ahead of its release next week.

The biggest takeaway from technology journalist Ashlee Vance’s new biography, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, is clear: The South African-born self-made billionaire’s ambition will stop at nothing. But what really makes this tale of drive so interesting is Musk’s track record to date. He’s the man behind PayPal, Tesla Motors TESLA MOTORS INC. TSLA 1.62% , SpaceX, and SolarCity SOLARCITY CORP COM USD0.0001 SCTY 0.73% . Vance’s take on Musk gives readers an unbiased glimpse into the entrepreneur’s undeniable success in some of the world’s toughest industries for start-ups.

Ahead of the book’s release on May 19, here are some of the most intriguing excerpts.

The PayPal Mafia

While Musk made his first fortune from an early start-up called Zip2, it was at PayPal that the entrepreneur first showed his ability to challenge a complex industry already set in its ways.

Musk’s central role as co-founder of PayPal shouldn’t be overlooked. In retrospect, the PayPal history is evidence of Musk’s unquestionable genius at rallying talented individuals around a big goal and making things happen.

PayPal also came to represent one of the greatest assemblages of business and engineering talent in Silicon Valley history. Both Musk and [Peter] Thiel had a keen eye for young, brilliant engineers. The founders of start-ups as varied as YouTube, Palantir Technologies, and Yelp all worked at PayPal. Another set of people — including Reid Hoffman, Thiel, and [Roelof] Botha — emerged as some of the technology industry’s top investors. PayPal staff pioneered techniques in fighting online fraud that have formed the basis of software used by the CIA and FBI to track terrorists and of software used by the world’s largest banks to combat crime. This collection of super-bright employees has become known as the PayPal Mafia — more or less the current ruling class of Silicon Valley — and Musk is its most famous and successful member.

Musk’s uncanny ability to build successful organizations hit new levels after PayPal.

“During a time in which clean-tech businesses have gone bankrupt with alarming regularity, Musk has built two of the most successful clean-tech companies in the world,” Vance writes. “The Musk Co. empire of factories, tens of thousands of workers, and industrial might has incumbents on the run and has turned Musk into one of the richest men in the world, with a net worth around $10 billion.”

Musk’s track record suggests his lofty goals are achievable

Vance goes beyond simply laying out Musk’s track record. His portrait of Musk shows just how crucial the entrepreneur was to the major achievements behind every start-up he was involved with. Going even further, Vance’s report of Musk led him to believe PayPal’s achievements might have been limited by a cautious board of directors who had trouble wrapping their minds around Musk’s unbridled ambition.

“History has demonstrated that while Musk’s goals can sound absurd in the moment, he certainly believes in them and, when given enough time, tends to achieve them,” Vance argues.

Some of Musk’s current visions that are often criticized as overly optimistic include:

  • At Tesla, where Musk is CEO, he wants to sell 500,000 vehicles per year by 2020, up from management’s target to sell just 55,000 vehicles this year.
  • At SpaceX, the other company where Musk is currently CEO, he wants to put a man on Mars in 10 years.
  • Combining Tesla’s new battery storage business and the solar panel operations at SolarCity, where Musk serves as chairman, Musk wants to catalyze a global transition to sustainable energy.

Sparking a new level of innovation in Silicon Valley

After studying Musk, Vance believes that the entrepreneur is playing a key role in pushing Silicon Valley toward greater innovation and more meaningful work.

Vance describes a lull in Silicon Valley between 2002 and 2007:

Between Google and Apple’s introduction of the iPhone in 2007, there’s a wasteland of ho-hum companies. And the hot new things that were just starting out — Facebook and Twitter — certainly did not look like their predecessors — Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Sun Microsystems — that made physical products and employed tens of thousands of people in the process. In the years that followed, the goal went from taking huge risks to create new industries and grand new ideas, to chasing easier money by entertaining consumers and pumping out simple apps and advertisements.

But Musk’s bold vision and willingness to take risks, paired with surprisingly robust execution, in the automotive, space, and energy industries, Vance explains, set a new precedent.

‘To me, Elon is the shining example of how Silicon Valley might be able to reinvent itself and be more relevant than chasing these quick IPOs and focusing on getting incremental products out,’ said Edward Jung, a famed software engineer and inventor. ‘Those things are important, but they are not enough. We need to look at different models of how to do things that are longer term in nature and where the technology is more integrated.’ The integration mentioned by Jung — the harmonious melding of software, electronics, advanced materials, and computer horsepower — appears to be Musk’s gift. Squint ever so slightly, and it looks like Musk could be using his skills to pave the way toward an age of astonishing machines and science fiction dreams made manifest.

Of the many profiles of business leaders, Vance’s take on Musk is among the best. The author’s objective and unbiased viewpoint captures Musk’s good and bad, his achievements and failures. Based on more than 30 hours of conversations with Musk, and interviews with close to 300 people, this investigative biography captures many facets of the inventor and entrepreneur. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future should be required reading for anyone in business.

MONEY Careers

Elon Musk Denies Scolding New Parent for Missing Meeting

A new biography claims Elon Musk criticized an employee who missed a work event to witness the birth of his child. The man behind Tesla and SpaceX says it never happened.

TIME Workplace & Careers

Elon Musk Denies Scolding New Parent Employee Over Missed Meeting

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, unveils batteries for homes, businesses, and utilities at Tesla Design Studio April 30, 2015 in Hawthorne, California.
Kevork Djansezian—Getty Images Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, unveils batteries for homes, businesses, and utilities at Tesla Design Studio April 30, 2015 in Hawthorne, California.

"It is total BS & hurtful to claim that I told a guy to miss his child's birth just to attend a company meeting"

Tesla and SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk rejected a claim Tuesday that he once upbraided an employee for taking time off work to witness a child’s birth on Twitter, calling the allegations “total BS and hurtful.”

Musk was responding to an anecdote featured in upcoming biography, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, written by business reporter Ashlee Vance.

In the book, an employee claims that Musk sent a sternly worded note in which Musk reportedly wrote that the child’s birth was “no excuse,” adding, “you need to figure out where your priorities are.” Musk denied ever having written the note and cast doubts on the veracity of the book:

As more sensational quotes from advanced copies of the book leaked online, Musk continued to tweet back rebuttals.

Read next: How to Achieve Extreme Success Like Richard Branson and Elon Musk

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Innovation

Why the Next Leader of the U.N. Should Be a Woman

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. After 70 years of men in charge, the next leader of the U.N. should be a woman.

By Gillian Sorensen and Jean Krasno in the Washington Post

2. Here’s how to design a better Monday.

By Studio 360 and IDEO

3. What brought some cities back from the economic brink? Making peace with their suburbs.

By Nancy Cook in the National Journal

4. There’s an app to document and salvage Nepal’s cultural heritage.

By Annette Ekin at Al Jazeera

5. Elon Musk just made growing weed easier.

By Wes Siler in Gizmodo

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Autos

You Can Buy a Used Tesla Online Now

A Tesla Model S P85D vehicle is displayed at the 2015 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit on Jan. 12, 2015.
Bloomberg via Getty Images A Tesla Model S P85D vehicle is displayed at the 2015 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit on Jan. 12, 2015.

With a number of cars coming off lease, Tesla is looking to sell the used cars online

Tesla is now looking to sell used versions of its electric cars online, the California company recently announced.

Elon Musk’s luxury auto maker is looking to make it easier for people to buy the used Model S sedans as leases come to an end for a big crop of the cars this summer, reports the Wall Street Journal. Tesla is now selling the used cars directly on its website.

A new Tesla Model S goes for between $75,000 and $105,000 before tax incentives and gas savings, depending on the battery. Used car prices range from $60,000 to more than $100,000 depending on the car’s mileage and its battery.

The first Model S units were sold in the middle of 2012, and leases are generally for three years.

Many people have also traded in their Model S for the new all-wheel drive edition, making a greater number of older Model S cars available for re-sale.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

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