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Written by Kirsten Korosec

Toyota’s first plug-in hybrid RAV4 Prime priced a skosh under $40,000

When Toyota unveiled the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime in November, the vehicle garnered a lot of attention because it achieved two seemingly conflicting goals. It was Toyota’s most fuel efficient and one of its most powerful vehicles.

Now, it’s getting praise for managing a base price under $40,000. Toyota said Friday that the standard trim of the plug-in vehicle, the RAV4 Prime SE, will start at $39,220,  a price that includes the mandatory $1,120 destination charge.

This plug-in RAV4 will have an all-wheel drive, sport-tuned suspension. When in pure EV mode it has a manufacturer-estimated 42 miles of range — putting it ahead of other plug-in SUVs. Toyota said it has a also has up to a manufacturer-estimated 94 combined miles per gallon equivalent. We’re still waiting on official EPA estimates.

The vehicle has a tuned 2.5-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine and when combined with the electric motors will deliver 302 horsepower and be able to travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a projected 5.8 seconds.

The plug-in RAV4 will be offered in two variants. Toyota equips all of its RAV4 models with its standard active safety systems that includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, full-speed range dynamic radar cruise  control, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, lane tracing assist and road sign assist.

The cheaper SE comes standard with some notable features like 18-inch painted and machined alloy wheels, heated front seats, a power liftgate, a 3-kilowatt onboard charger and a 8-inch touchscreen along with Amazon Alexa integration and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. Some advanced driver assistance features such as blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert also comes standard.

There is a weather and moonroof package for an additional $1,665 upgrade, that adds extras like a heated steering wheel, heated rear outboard seats and rain-sensing windshield wipers with de-icer function.

The pricier XSE trim starts at $42,545 (with the destination price included) and offers more luxury touches such as a two-tone exterior paint scheme pairing a black roof with select colors, 19-inch two-tone alloy wheels, paddle shifters, wireless phone charger and a 9-inch touchscreen. There are several other upgrades, of course, including one for the multimedia system that adds dynamic navigation and a JBL speaker system. The daddy of upgrades on the XSE costs $5,760 and covers weather, audio and premium features including a heads-up display, panoramic moonroof, digital rearview mirror, surround-view cameras and four-door keyless entry.

The vehicle is expected to show up at dealerships this summer.

Audi launches high-tech car unit Artemis to fast track a ‘pioneering’ EV to market

Audi has created a new business unit called Artemis to bring electric vehicles equipped with highly automated driving systems and other tech to market faster — the latest bid by the German automaker to become more agile and competitive.

The traditional automotive industry, where the design to start of production cycle might take five to seven years, has been grappling with how to bring new and innovative products to market more quickly to meet consumers’ fickle demands. The model is more akin to how Tesla or a consumer electronics company operates.

The first project under Artemis will be to “develop a pioneering model for Audi quickly and unbureaucratically,” Audi AG CEO Markus Duesmann said in a statement Friday. The unit is aiming to design and produce what Audi describes as a “highly efficient electric car” as early as 2024.

Artemis will be led by Alex Hitzinger, who was in charge of Audi’s Autonomous Intelligent Driving, the self-driving subsidiary that was launched just in 2017 to develop autonomous vehicle technology for the VW Group. AID was absorbed into the European headquarters of Argo AI, a move that was made after VW invested $2.6 billion in capital and assets into the self-driving startup.

Hitzinger, who takes the new position beginning June 1, will report directly to Duesmann. Artemis will be based at the company’s tech hub of its INCampus in Ingolstadt, Germany.

Artemis is under the Audi banner. However, the aim is for this group’s work to benefit brands under its parent company VW Group.  Hitzinger and the rest of his team will have access to resources and technologies within the entire Volkswagen Group . For instance, Car.Software, an independent business unit under the VW Group, will provide digital services to Artemis.  The upshot: to create a blueprint that will make VW Group a more agile automaker able to bring new and technologically advanced vehicles to market more quickly.

VW Group plans to produce and sell 75 electric vehicle models across its brands by 2029, a group that includes VW passenger cars and Audi. The creation of Artemis hasn’t changed Audi’s plans to produce 20 new all-electric vehicles and 10 new plug-in hybrids by 2025.

“The obvious question was how we could implement additional high-tech benchmarks without jeopardizing the manageability of existing projects, and at the same time utilize new opportunities in the markets,” Duesmann said.

Uber latest features lets riders book by the hour and make multiple stops

Uber is bringing a new feature to the U.S. that lets users book rides for $50 an hour and make multiple stops as the ride-hailing company tries to respond to changing consumer needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hourly booking feature, which is already available in a handful of international cities in Australia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, will launch in a dozen U.S. cities beginning Monday. The product will be available in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Orlando, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Tacoma, Seattle and Washington D.C. Uber said it expects to expand into other U.S. cities in the coming weeks.

Uber made the move in an effort to offer riders a more convenient way to get things done, and to provide an additional earnings opportunity for drivers as we move forward in this ‘new normal,’ Niraj Patel, director of rider operations at Uber said in a statement.

Riders who want to use the new feature start by selecting “hourly” in the app and then entering their initial stop. Riders can see the $50 hourly rate at a glance and compare to other options before committing to the trip. The rider selects the expected hours and can enter in multiple stops — as many as three including the destination.

Uber Hourly for Rider feature

Image Credits: Uber

There are limitations to the feature, including mileage. In some cities, the hourly booking feature only allows drivers to travel up to 40 miles. Trips that travel farther than the mileage limit will be charged to the rider at a per mile rate. The same rule applies to trips the run over the booked hour; riders will be charged per minute over the hour.

Hourly booking cannot be used to travel to or from airports and trips must be within a city service area. The $50 hourly rate excludes tolls and surcharges.