A History of Silicon Valley

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These are excerpts from Piero Scaruffi's book
"A History of Silicon Valley"


(Copyright © 2016 Piero Scaruffi)

The Selfies (2011-16)

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Greentech and Electric Vehicles

Elon Musk gained control of Tesla in 2008 and Tesla's Roadster (first unveiled in 2006) completely changed the game of electric vehicles. In 2012 Tesla introduced a more affordable model, the Model S, equipped with a 100 kwh battery pack, while deploying charging stations all over the country; but Tesla's Model 3, theoretically a low-end electric car, faced the fierce competition of established car manufacturers, notably the Chevrolet Bolt EV (introduced in 2017).

Two Los Angeles-based startups tried to compete with Tesla: Fisker Automotive, founded in 2007 by Henrik Fisker, and Faraday Future, founded in 2014 by Chinese billionaire Yueting Jia. Neither succeeded, but several startups rose from their ashes: Evelozcity, founded in 2017 by former Faraday Future and BMW executives), Independent Electric Vehicles (led by Faraday Future's designer Steve Osorio), Karma Automotive, founded in 2015 by ex Fisker executives and owned by Chinese conglomerate Wanxiang Group), etc.

There was also at least one spinoff from Tesla: Lucid Motors, founded in 2007 as Atieva in Newark to make batteries but renamed Lucid in 2017 after adding Tesla's vice president Peter Rawlinson, the chief engineer behind Tesla's Model S. SF Motors founded in 2016 by John Zhang (son of the owner of Sokon in China) designed and manufactured its own batteries with technology developed by Martin Eberhard, its chief scientist and Tesla's real founder. Electric vehicle startups raised $650 million in 2017, and several times more in 2018. Among them were Zoox, founded in 2014 by Tim Kentley-Klay, which became a unicorn worth $1.5 billion in 2017; and Nuro.ai, founded in 2016, by two former Google engineers, Jiajun Zhu and Dave Ferguson.

QuantumScape, founded in 2010 in San Jose by Jagdeep Singh and backed by Volkswagen, licensed technology from Stanford for solid-state batteries that replaced the liquid electrolyte of conventional lithium-ion batteries with a solid material, batteries capable of storing more energy and, more importantly, not dependent on cobalt, a very expensive material. KeraCel, founded in 2016 in Santa Clara by Robert Bagheri, developed 3D-printable solid-state batteries.

In 2018 San Francisco held the Global Climate Action Summit, organized by California's governor Jerry Brown. The Bay Area remained a world leader in greentech/cleantech, despite the election of an anti-environmental president (Donald Trump).

In 2016 the venture-capital fund DBL Partners (Double Bottom Line) was established in San Francisco, specializing in “impact investment”. It was probably the first in the world to achieve significant financial returns on investment. Powerhouse, established in Oakland in 2013 by Emily Kirsch and Danny Kennedy, was an incubator and accelerator devoted to new energy technologies. Besides Bloom, which in 2017 became a "unicorn", cleantech startups included: Aemetis (Cupertino, 2006) for renewable fuels; Alphabet Energy (Berkeley, 2009), founded by Matthew Scullin and Peidong Yang, a spinoff of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to generate power from waste heat; Genability (San Francisco, 2010), founded by Jason Riley, and Autogrid (Stanford, 2011), founded by Amit Narayan, both for optimization of new-energy use; etc. Advanced Microgrid Solutions (San Francisco, 2012), founded by Susan Kennedy, developed software to ensure enough electricity for the demand within microgrids. Carbon Lighthouse (San Francisco, 2010), founded by Brenden Millstein and Raphael Rosen, devised a financial strategy for commercial and industrial buildings to become carbon neutral.

In 2018 the state of California introduced measures to boost the adoption of electric vehicles. Electric vehicle startups raised more than $2 billion in the USA over the first months of 2018 alone, a huge increase over the $650 million raised in 2017. They were mostly based in California and they mostly served the California market, which accounted for as much as all the other states combined. Tesla was the undisputed leader in the USA, despite the models introduced by German and Japanese cars besides General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler. In 2017 Tesla opened its largest recharging station, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The new startups were mostly based in Los Angeles, where in 2011 Henrik Fisker had introduced the luxury electric car Karma: Karma Automotive (ex Fisker, now owned by Wanxiang Group); Evelozcity (2017), born from the ashes of Faraday Future; Independent Electric Vehicles or Indi EV (2017), another Faraday Future offshoot; and the new Fisker company. The Bay Area had: Fremont-based Lucid Motors (2017), featuring former Tesla engineer Peter Rawlinson; Santa Clara-based SF Motors (2016), featuring Tesla’s original founder Martin Eberhard; and Mountain View-based Nuro.ai (2016), formed by former Google engineers Jiajun Zhu and Dave Ferguson.

Volta Charging (San Francisco, 2010), founded by Scott Mercer, created a nation-wide network of free charging stations for electric vehicles (and made money from advertising posted on such stations). FreeWire Technologies (San Leandro, 2014) made portable electric vehicle charging stations. By 2018 Coulomb Technologies, founded in 2007 in Campbell by Richard Lowenthal and now renamed Chargepoint, ran the world's largest network of electric-vehicle charging stations, with more than 20,000 charging locations.

There was no question, however, that China ruled: in 2017 China’s electric vehicle production was 50% of global production (EU 21%, USA 17%, Japan 8%, South Korea 3%), China’s battery cell production for electric vehicles was eleven times that of the USA, and China had the largest stock of electric vehicles in the world, with cumulative sales of more than 1.7 million units.

California also resurrected the dream of "vertical take off and landing vehicles" (VTOLs) and particularly electric ones (eVTOLs). The idea had originated with a white paper written by Mark Moore at NASA in Virginia titled “Personal Air Vehicles” (2003). NASA built a concept VTOL in 2010. Google was involved in two startups: Kitty Hawk, that demonstrated its flying car in 2017, and Cora, that demonstrated an autonomous flying taxi in March 2018. Airbus' labs in Silicon Valley, called A³, worked on a self-piloted eVTOL called Vahana, first demonstrated in January 2018. JoeBen Bevirt started Joby in Santa Cruz in 2009 to work with NASA on experimental aircrafts, but only in February 2018 he got enough funding to build an air taxi. Uber had a project for a flying car but it was based in Paris.


click here for the other sections of the chapter "The Selfies (2011-16)"
(Copyright © 2016 Piero Scaruffi)

Table of Contents | Timeline of Silicon Valley | A photographic tour | History pages | Editor | Correspondence