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Harley-Davidson’s ‘Rewire’ plan starts with 700 jobs cuts, ousted CFO

Harley-Davidson, the storied and struggling Milwaukee-based company that last year launched its first production electric motorcycle in an effort to reboot sales and appeal to a younger customer base, is cutting 700 jobs from its global operations. About 500 workers will be laid off before the end of the year, the company said Thursday.

The company’s CFO John Olin is also out, effective immediately. Harley-Davidson’s current VP Treasurer Darrell Thomas has taken over as interim CFO until a successor is appointed. “Significant changes are necessary, and we must move in new directions,” Harley Davidson Chairman, president and CEO Jochen Zeitz said in a statement.

Harley-Davidson has branded its job cuts and restructuring plan “The Rewire,” which Zeitz spoke about in the company’s first-quarter earnings call back in April. At the time, Zeitz said the company was still committed to its other strategic plan known as “More Roads” that aimed to make the manufacturer an accessible, global brand through marketing and dealership initiatives and a series of new products that included small displacement motorcycles for Asia markets and EVs starting with the LiveWire.

Still, Zeitz declared back in April it was time for a change.

“As a result of my observations and assessment, I’ve concluded that we need to take significant actions and rewire the company now in terms of priorities, execution, operating model and strategy to drive sustained profit and long-term growth,” he said in April. “We are calling it The Rewire. And it’s our playbook for the next few months, leading to a new five-year strategic plan, which we will share when visibility to the future returns.”

Visibility into the future has apparently returned, and in Harley-Davidson’s view it’s time to cut costs and possibly get back to its core products. Initial Rewire actions are expected to result in restructuring costs of about $42 million in second quarter of 2020, Harley-Davidson said in its announcement Thursday. The company plans to share a summary of The Rewire, including additional costs and expected savings, when it releases its Q2 results. The Rewire will set the foundation for a new 2021-2025 strategic plan which is expected to be shared in the fourth quarter.

Harley-Davidson has seen its sales drop in recent years in the U.S., its largest market as its core Baby Boomer customers have gotten older. The COVID-19 pandemic dampened sales further and the company has already cut back production, which resulted in dozens of job cuts last month at its factories in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The push into EVs and products for Asian countries aimed to expand into new markets and breath new life into Harley-Davidson.

It’s unclear is how “The Rewire” might affect the company’s push into EVs. The LiveWire, which launched last fall, was supposed to lead a future line-up of EVs planned by Harley-Davidson — spanning motorcycles, bicycles and scooters. Harley-Davidson has not responded to a request for comment; TechCrunch will update the article if the company responds.

The statement from HD makes no specific mention of EVs. It only said the key elements of its restructuring plan was to enhance core strengths and better balance expansion into new spaces, prioritize the markets that matter, reset product launches and build up its accessories and merchandising businesses.

Fisker raises $50 million to bring its all-electric Ocean SUV to market in 2022

Electric vehicle startup Fisker Inc. said Wednesday it has raised $50 million, much needed capital that will go towards funding the next phase of engineering work on the company’s all-electric luxury SUV.

The startup is aiming to launch the Fisker Ocean SUV in 2022.

The Series C funding round was led by Moore Strategic Ventures LLC, the private investment vehicle of Louis M. Bacon, the billionaire hedge fund manager.

“Since we first showed the car at CES earlier this year, reaction from customers and investors has been extremely positive,” Fisker Inc. Chairman and CEO Henrik Fisker said in a statement. “We are radically challenging the conventional industry thinking around developing and selling cars and this capital will allow us to execute our planned timeline to start producing vehicles in 2022.”

The company is also beefing up its executive lineup to help push the project along.  Fisker said it has hired Burkhard Huhnke as its CTO. Huhnke was the former vice president of e-mobility for Volkswagen America and vice president of automotive at chipmaker Synopses.

As CTO, Huhnke will spread his time between the company’s R&D work in Los Angeles and its new Fisker Innovation Lab in Silicon Valley.

Building a car company isn’t easy. Just ask Fisker. The well-known automotive designer, who was behind the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Aston Martin DB9 and BMW Z8 among others, launched a startup called Fisker Automotive that aimed to produce a luxury plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The flagship vehicle, the Fisker Karma, debuted at the 2008 North American International Auto Show, and first deliveries were in 2011. But the company ran into numerous challenges and production was suspended in November 2012 and ended in bankruptcy a year later.

China’s Wanxiang Group purchased what was left of Fisker in 2014 and launched a new company called Karma Automotive . On a side note: Karma, which has had its own financial struggles, also announced Wednesday it had raised $100 million.

This time around, Fisker is focused on an SUV. The Fisker Ocean, which was officially revealed in January at CES 2020, starts at $37,499 before applying any federal income tax credit or state incentives.

Mercedes opts for more screens and fewer buttons in the 2021 S-Class

Teaser images and leaked photos of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class suggested the automaker was moving towards a more digital-centric interior. That might have been an understatement.

Mercedes-Benz revealed Monday its second-generation MBUX infotainment system and it is loaded with new technology, including touchscreens, augmented reality head-up display as well as improved voice and facial recognition. Gone are many of the physical switches found in the older version of the S-Class. Mercedes said it removed 27 mechanical switches for the 2021 model.

The upshot: Mercedes’ is linking technology with luxury. And while the entire interior of the new S-Class has yet to be revealed, it appears the company is transitioning away from a rather crowded dash and center console area that in previous models included every kind of analog button and switch as well as newer digital displays.

Before diving into the tech that stands out in the newest version of MBUX, here’s a handy graphic that provides an overview.

mercedes benz s class mbux

Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

The first-generation Mercedes-Benz User Experience or MBUX system was unveiled in January 2018 at the CES tech trade show and debuted in the automaker’s A Class hatchback. That was a departure for Mercedes, which has historically reserved its best tech for its flagship model the S-Class. Mercedes is returning to that strategy with the new version of MBUX heading to the 2021 S-Class.

Here are the highlights.

5 touchscreens

You read that correctly. The 2021 Mercedes S Class will have up to five touchscreens, which includes displays for passengers. The S-Class will come standardly equipped with 12.8-inch OLED screens that include haptic feedback.

The user can control or access features on the displays by touching or swiping the actual screen or by using voice control, natural hand gestures and now gaze control.  Mercedes did hold back on keep some functions like lights and windshield wipers off of the touchscreen. The climate control panel is permanently at the lower edge of the display.

The system will provide the kind of customization an S-Class owner would expect. Preferences can be stored in the vehicle’s personal “Mercedes me” profile. Up to seven different profiles are possible in the vehicle.

The appearance of the screens can also be individualized with a choice of four display styles — discreet, sporty, exclusive and classic. The are three users modes as well to cover navigation, assistance and service. Screen content can also be shared with other passengers.

In the backseat, where up to three screens are optionally available, passengers can share select and amend navigation destinations.

3D display

Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes has adopted 3D technology into the vehicle, specifically for the driver display. The three-dimensional effect is possible without having to wear 3D glasses, the automaker said.

The company was able to achieve this effect by combining a conventional LCD display with a special pixel structure and a controllable LCD aperture grill. A barrier mask is placed a few millimeters in front of the LCD. The result is that the left and right eye see different pixels of the LCD, creating the illusion of depth.

The 3D display feature can be adjusted to a 2D or flatter graphic.

Voice

Mercedes-Benz put an early emphasis on voice in the first-generation of MBUX. The automaker said it has improved its voice assistant further. For instance, certain actions can be triggered without the ‘Hey Mercedes’ activation keyword to accept a phone call or display the navigation map. “Hey Mercedes” can now explain further in-car questions such as, where the first-aid kit is located or how to connect a smartphone via Bluetooth.

The voice assistant now understands commands and questions relating to infotainment sector and vehicle operation in 27 languages. It has also become far more natural and continues to learn — two areas we hope to test. For instance, the voice assistant understands indirect language such as if a user says “I am cold” instead of the clear command “Set temperature in footwell to 72 degrees.”

There’s also a new “Chit-Chat” feature that supplies the right answer to many questions — even questions about animal noises or general knowledge can be answered, Mercedes claims.

Security

Mercedes is all in on the security of this vehicle. The classic PIN entry is still on the S-Class. The automaker has added a new authentication method ensure a high level of security.

The system now combines fingerprint, face and voice recognition. This allows access to individual settings. That extra layer of security isn’t there to protect your seating preference, although perhaps that’s worth protecting. It’s also there to allow users to make payments digitally from within the vehicle.

Safety functions and assistants

Besides the voice assistant, the infotainment system is equipped with other tools to assist the driver.

For instance, there’s a special blind spot warning designed for drivers leaving their vehicle. Sensors and cameras can detect the driver’s intention to leave and will issue warning if there are road users and obstacles alongside the car. Another warning will alert of an unattached child seat on the front passenger seat.

The vehicle will also listen for cues to gauge the alertness level of the driver. If the driver says “I’m tired,” an activation program of energizing comfort control is started. The same sentence from the rear starts a well-being program.