In Southern California, Volvo's Electric Revolution Is Ahead of Schedule

Zac Estrada

Zac Estrada is a reporter covering transportation, technology and policy. A former reporter for The Verge and Jalopnik, his work has also appeared in Automobile Magazine, Autoweek, Pacific Standard, and BLAC Detroit. A native of Southern California, he is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston. You can find him on Twitter at @zacestrada.

In Southern California, Volvo's Electric Revolution Is Ahead of Schedule

When Volvo rolls out its new EV, the 2022 C40 Recharge, early next year, the Swedish carmaker will feel confident about sales in at least one market: Southern California.

In June and July, Volvo Cars USA reported sales of plug-in hybrid and fully electric versions of its cars made up more than half of its sales in California.

"It's our biggest market within our biggest market [North America]," said Volvo spokesman Russell Datz. "I think the buyers in Southern California are progressive, tech-savvy. They like the idea of hybrids and EVs, and there are certainly lots of incentives. Not just in terms of money, but in terms of parking, charging, familiarity with the tech."

Even with last year's pandemic-induced slump in new car sales, plug-in hybrid and fully electric vehicle sales stood at just over 8% of the market. Nationally, plug-in vehicles made up 1.8% of sales last year, a record.

Datz says Volvo also has another strong plug-in market in suburban Chicago, but the share of hybrid and electric Volvos sold in June and July for the entire U.S. hovered around 20%. That means not all of its U.S strongholds are on board with its electric movement — especially in places with cold and snowy seasons.

"This is a big roadblock, not just for Volvo, but any consumer new to the idea of owning an electric car," said Robby DeGraff, an analyst with Tustin-based AutoPacific. "Regardless of the automaker, this is something that really needs to be addressed with language that's super clear and easy to understand."

There's also the issue of maximum range — that is, how far the car can go on a full charge. Volvo's first all-electric car, the 2021 XC40 Recharge SUV, is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency to get up to 208 miles before it runs out of power. Early estimates put the C40 at about 210 in EPA testing.

That's a step behind some of their competitors. New EVs from Ford and Volkswagen, for example, get closer to 250 or offer different battery sizes. The four cars that Tesla now offers all start around 240 miles of range as a base — and are generally cheaper than Volvo's offerings.

Volvo's C40 electric vehicle

DeGraff says Volvo's larger SUVs are its bestselling "moneymakers," so when those models go all-electric in the next two to four years, range and price will be more comparable to their luxury rivals.

"If Volvo can offer full-electric versions of its lineup at prices that are comparable in a sense to the gas models, that'll be their key to success," he said.

The $58,750 C40 will include a leather-free interior, an advanced driver assistance system that performs minor steering functions, and built-in Google Maps and Google's voice assistant.

Even for California, the C40 Recharge will be a big test. The C40 is only available as an electric car. There is no internal combustion engine option at all. It's the first new Volvo without a gasoline or hybrid-powered counterpart, which is how the company will introduce its new cars until the entire line is electric in 2030.

There's an online component to the way all electric Volvos will be sold. Customers have been able to reserve the car since the C40 was first announced earlier this year. Even before the prices were announced last week they've been able to visit Volvo's U.S. website and put down a $500 place in line, and are still able to.

"I think EV customers are different from standard vehicle buyers, at least now," Datz said. "Frankly, the Tesla model is what they're most familiar with and Tesla has been successful. I defy you to find a customer who would turn down a simpler car buying experience, that's what we're trying to achieve."

But unlike Tesla and other EV startups, Volvo's partners in this new model are its franchised dealers. All of its U.S. dealers will continue to provide the option of a traditional sales experience to customers. And while those will continue to continue to provide in-person sales and repair service for electrics and other Volvos, the dealers in California and a few other states have not been pleased with some of the company's new sales strategies.

In August 2019, the California New Car Dealers Association were granted approval by the state to protest a program called Care by Volvo. The subscription-based service let customers pick a car online and, for one set price, pay for the car, insurance and any minor damage costs. And dealers weren't allowed add-on usual fees or options.

While Volvo uses this program successfully in other countries where laws are different, it's continued to refine the system in the U.S. to get it into more than 40 states as of now. But not in some big EV markets like California.

"We can't come in and say we're going online only and cut out all the dealers," Datz said. "One, it's bad business, and, two, it's illegal."

For now, Volvo's EVs have a sort of hybrid model when it comes to sales. And even those customers who choose to reserve and purchase the car online will also pick a local dealer to work with to get the car once it arrives.

What the company won't do is take too much inspiration from its subsidiary, Polestar, when it comes to sales. Polestar's sales process is almost entirely online, and the only brick-and-mortar pieces are so-called Spaces, which are retail storefronts where people can sit in the car and test drive it. One in Santa Monica opened last year and another is slated for Orange County later this year.

Datz says Polestar works independently and Volvo isn't looking at too many of that brand's sales strategies right now. But that could change.

"That's where customers are headed," he said. "It's very difficult to argue with a concept like Amazon where you just click a button and it shows up. Will that happen with cars? Maybe."

Editor's Note: This story was updated to clarify Volvo's relationship with its existing dealer network and the implementation of the online sales component of the 2022 C40.

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Two LA Startups Participate in Techstars' 2023 Health Care Accelerator

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Two LA Startups Participate in Techstars' 2023 Health Care Accelerator
Courtesy of Techstars

Earlier this month, Techstars announced that their 2023 accelerator program will have two simultaneous cohorts–Techstars health care and L.A. As previously reported on dot.LA, Techstars has brought on board returning partners Cedars Sinai, United Healthcare, along with new partners that include UCI Health and Point32Health for its health care cohort.

“For our healthcare program, this is the first time we've had multiple partners as sponsors,” Managing Director Matt Kozlov said. “This allows us to support and mentor a wider diversity of companies than we've been able to help historically.”

The in-person program is taking place in Los Angeles and two out of the twelve companies accepted into the health care program are based in Southern California.

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The Influencer-to-Podcaster Pipeline Is Ready to Explode

Nat Rubio-Licht
Nat Rubio-Licht is a freelance reporter with dot.LA. They previously worked at Protocol writing the Source Code newsletter and at the L.A. Business Journal covering tech and aerospace. They can be reached at
The Influencer-to-Podcaster Pipeline Is Ready to Explode
Evan Xie

It’s no secret that men dominate the podcasting industry. Even as women continue to grow their foothold, men still make up many of the highest-earning podcasts, raking in massive paychecks from ad revenue and striking deals with streaming platforms worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

But a new demographic is changing that narrative: Gen-Z female influencers and content creators.

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NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System
Evan Xie

NASA’s footprint in California is growing as the agency prepares for Congress to approve its proposed 2024 budget.

The overall NASA budget swelled 6% from the prior year, JPL deputy director Larry James told dot.LA. He added he sees that as a continuation of the last two presidential administrations’ focus on modernizing and bolstering the nation’s space program.

The money goes largely to existing NASA centers in California, including the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory run with Caltech, Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

California remains a hotspot for NASA space activity and investment. In 2021, the agency estimated its economic output impact on the region to be around $15.2 billion. That was far more than its closest competing states, including Texas ($9.3 billion) and Maryland (roughly $8 billion). That same year, NASA reported it employed over 66,000 people in California.

“In general, Congress has been very supportive” of the JPL and NASA’s missions, James said. “It’s generally bipartisan [and] supported by both sides of the aisle. In the last few years in general NASA has been able to have increased budgets.”

There are 41 current missions run by JPL and CalTech, and another 16 scheduled for the future. James added the new budget is “an incredible support for all the missions we want to do.”

The public-private partnership between NASA and local space companies continues to evolve, and the increased budget could be a boon for LA-based developers. Numerous contractors for NASA (including CalTech, which runs the JPL), Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman all stand to gain new contracts once the budget is finalized, partly because NASA simply needs the private industry’s help to achieve all its goals.

James said that there was only one JPL mission that wasn’t funded – a mission to send an orbital satellite to survey the surface and interior of Venus, called VERITAS.

NASA Employment and Output ImpactEvan Xie

The Moon and Mars

Much of the money earmarked in the proposed 2024 budget is for crewed missions. Overall, NASA’s asking for $8 billion from Congress to fund lunar exploration missions. As part of this, the majority is earmarked for the upcoming Artemis mission, which aims to land a woman and person of color on the Moon’s south pole.

While there’s a number of high-profile missions the JPL is working on that are focused on Mars, including Mars Sample Return project (which received $949 million in this proposed budget) and Ingenuity helicopter and Perseverance rover, JPL also received significant funding to study the Earth’s climate and behavior.

JPL also got funding for several projects to map our universe. One is the SphereX Near Earth Objects surveyor mission, the goal of which is to use telescopes to “map the entire universe,” James said, adding that the mission was fully funded.

International Space Station

NASA’s also asking for more money to maintain the International Space Station (ISS), which houses a number of projects dedicated to better understanding the Earth’s climate and behavior.

The agency requested roughly $1.3 billion to maintain the ISS. It also is increasing its investment in space flight support, in-space transportation and commercial development of low-earth orbit (LEO). “The ISS is an incredible platform for us,” James said.

James added there are multiple missions outside or on board the ISS now taking data, including EMIT, which launched in July 2022. The EMIT mission studies arid dust sources on the planet using spectroscopy. It uses that data to remodel how mineral dust movement in North and South America might affect the Earth’s temperature changes.

Another ISS mission JPL launched is called ECOSTRESS. The mission sent a thermal radiometer onto the space station in June 2018 to monitor how plants lose water through their leaves, with the goal of figuring out how the terrestrial biosphere reacts to changes in water availability. James said the plan is to “tell you the kind of foliage health around the globe” from space.

One other ISS project is called Cold Atom Lab. It is “an incredible fundamental physics machine,” James said, that’s run by “three Nobel Prize winners as principal investigators on the Space Station.” Cold Atom Lab is a physics experiment geared toward figuring out how quantum phenomena behave in space by cooling atoms with lasers to just below absolute zero degrees.

In the long term, James was optimistic NASA’s imaging projects could lead to more dramatic discoveries. Surveying the makeup of planets’ atmospheres is a project “in the astrophysics domain we’re very excited about,” James said. He added that this imaging could lead to information about life on other planets, or, at the very least, an understanding of why they’re no longer habitable.