Insider Transportation: GM’s risky battery bet, Uber avoids a shutdown

Happy Friday and welcome back to Business Insider’s weekly roundup of all things A to B. I’m senior editor Alex Davies, back on BI’s transportation desk after a six-year hiatus. A whole lot changed in that interim: Wall Street has decided that Tesla is worth more than most of its competitors combined. The COVID-19 pandemic has ruptured supply chains and taken a hatchet to the airline industry. Regulators around the world have gotten deadly serious about stamping out gas- and diesel-powered locomotion. My adopted home of California has transformed from sunny wonderland to smokey hellscape.

Still, looking just at this week’s news, I’m struck by how many of the grand themes of this space have held true. The mainstream auto industry’s grappling with how, and whether, to buy into an electric-car game that Elon Musk dominates. Uber and Lyft are fighting with regulators over how to pay and treat their drivers. Self-driving cars threaten to upend the status quo — whenever they arrive. 

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Now let’s dive in. 

GM doubles down on a risky, EV-focused strategy.

Of the Detroit Big Three, General Motors has been the most bullish, and aggressive, on the electrification front. It plans to spend more than $20 billion on electric and autonomous vehicles by 2025, with more than 20 battery-powered rides due out in the next three years. CEO Mary Barra is so into the shift, she didn’t rule out changing GM’s name to reflect its newfound love for EVs. How does Ultium Motors sound?

Branding aside, analysts say this strategy is full of risks. Get the full scoop. 

American airports rebuild themselves for the age of coronavirus

Beyond the financial battering they’ve taken — along with airlines and manufacturers like Boeing — airports now face the challenge of adapting themselves to a highly contagious virus that’s not going away anytime soon. Fortunately, these three companies are around to help with everything from rejiggering signage to managing long lines to solving the parking problem. These sorts of moves will be vital as travel starts to pick back up, especially heading into the holiday season.

Uber and Lyft avoid a California shutdown — for now

The latest round in the never-ending fight that pits America’s ride-hailing siblings against America’s many regulators took place in California this week. The companies had threatened to stop ride-hail service in the Golden State as early as Thursday, but got an emergency stay in their appeal of a court ruling that said they must treat drivers as employees, not contractors. 

That battle’s postponed until an October hearing, but the two companies are hardly in vacation mode. The pandemic has been especially rough on Lyft, which lacks the three key advantages helping Uber hobble through the pain — advantages that could keep paying off even after COVID-19’s long gone. Meanwhile, the future hasn’t stopped its approach, and one analyst told us why he thinks autonomous vehicles could boost the ride-hail stalwarts in the early years but hurt them in the long run. 

Everything else:

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Axel Springer, Insider Inc.’s parent company, is an investor in Uber.

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