Happy Friday! June is just around the corner, in case you've lost track of time.
Today we look at Amazon's growing transportation empire and try to envision how mobility will be reshaped by the pandemic.
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Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,334 words, a 5-minute read.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
Amazon is emerging as a transportation juggernaut that could threaten carmakers, package delivery firms and even ride-hailing companies.
Why it matters: By building its own logistics ecosystem and investing in promising electric and autonomous vehicle startups, Amazon could lower its shipping costs to the point that partners like UPS become competitors instead.
What's new: Amazon is in advanced talks to buy self-driving tech startup Zoox, the Wall Street Journal reported this week.
The news set off a wave of speculation among investors and AV experts.
“We often hear from investors that Tesla could potentially be the Amazon of transportation. But what if Amazon is the Amazon of transportation?”— Morgan Stanley auto industry analyst Adam Jonas, in a May 17 report
The intrigue: Buying Zoox could potentially even open the door for Amazon to compete in the ride-sharing and food delivery industries.
Amazon has more than 210 transportation-related patents on everything from drones to automated ground vehicles, according to a Reuters analysis.
A more likely scenario, according to Guidehouse Insights analyst Sam Abuelsamid:
What to watch: Now could be the best time for Amazon to dramatically increase the size of its air fleet, says Bank of America analyst Justin Post.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
Transportation came to a virtual standstill in the past few months, but how it will look in three to five years is difficult to predict, even for the mobility experts at Deloitte Consulting, who are supposed to know these things.
The big picture: A lot will depend on how long the pandemic lasts, and the degree to which governments — and even private industry — collaborate to manage the economic fallout, says Deloitte's Scott Corwin, who leads the firm's future of mobility practice.
Here are four possible outcomes, from a group of "renowned scenario thinkers" assembled by Deloitte and Salesforce. The details are worth reading, but here's a quick summary:
1. The public health and economic crises are acute but end fairly quickly.
2. Mobility companies step in to fill the transportation void left by the struggling public sector.
3. China, Singapore and Japan become the leaders in mobility innovation, including battery technology.
4. Economic woes drag on and globalization fades, while cities and states regulate the movement of people and goods more closely.
My thought bubble: It's impossible to predict which of these increasingly dark scenarios, if any, might come to pass, but two things seem like safe bets.
Ford's Police Intercept Utility undergoing cleaning process. Photo: Courtesy of Ford
Ford has developed software that literally bakes the interior of police cars to kill traces of the coronavirus that other cleaning methods might have missed.
Why it matters: The self-cleaning heat treatment is an example of how vehicle manufacturers and transit providers are experimenting with sanitization methods in the COVID-19 era.
The big picture: Police officers are at risk of contracting the virus because they are often dispatched to transport COVID-19 patients when ambulances are not available. They're also in danger of transporting individuals who have the virus but are asymptomatic.
How it works: The software, available on 176,000 hybrid-electric Ford Explorers sold as Police Interceptor Utility vehicles, uses the car's own engine and climate control systems to temporarily raise the cabin temperature to 133 degrees — hotter than Death Valley on its hottest day, Ford says.
The big question: Can similar methods be used to create self-cleaning transit buses, subway cars and taxis?
Photo: Saul Martinez/Getty Images
Bad weather scrubbed the scheduled launch of Elon Musk's historic first crewed SpaceX mission on Wednesday, but the sting of disappointment was likely offset by the $775 million stock bonus he earned the next day from his other company, Tesla.
Why it matters: Musk does not take a salary from Tesla, but negotiated an unusually rich, 10-year contract that pays him in stock options if the company meets certain performance milestones.
Driving the news: Musk earned the first performance-based payment: 1.7 million Tesla shares worth about $775 million based on the company's stock price at market close Thursday, according to an SEC filing reported by CNBC.
The big picture: Musk owns about 18.5% of the company — worth about $24 billion — as of May 1, per CNBC. The options are set to vest over 12 tranches that use different milestone requirements.
What to watch: The next SpaceX launch opportunity will be Saturday.
Germs: Boeing and Airbus study how coronavirus behaves during air travel (Andrew Tangel and Alison Sider — The Wall Street Journal)
Look up: The drones were ready for this moment (Alex Williams — The New York Times)
Big raise: SoftBank leads $500 million fundraising for Didi's self-driving unit (Yingzhi Yang and Brenda Goh — Reuters)
2021 Kia Seltos turns heads, especially in Starbright Yellow. Photo: Courtesy of Kia
Last week I drove a 2021 Kia Seltos, a fun and sporty subcompact SUV that turned heads everywhere I went.
The big picture: The Seltos is new to the Kia lineup, slotting between the entry-level Soul and the compact Sportage. It shares a platform with the Hyundai Kona and competes with cars like the Toyota C-HR, Nissan Kicks, Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3 and Jeep Renegade.
First impression: It's a stylish little SUV, even better-looking in Kia's special Starbright Yellow paint with a black contrasting roof. (I love the daring color choices automakers are choosing lately.)
Details: Two four-cylinder engines are offered: an efficient 2.0-liter or a 175-hp, 1.6-liter Turbo, good for 27 mpg in combined city/highway driving. All-wheel-drive is available on every model.
The bottom line: Starting at $23,110, the Seltos is still a good value, though. My SX Turbo AWD was $29,485.