VC Mark Suster: “The bet we’re making now is on founder skills,” not customers or products

We recently caught up with longtime VC Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures, which last raised both an early-stage fund and a growth stage fund several years ago and, according to regulatory filings, is in the market right now, though Suster couldn’t discuss either owing to SEC regulations.

We did talk about a wide range of things, from his firm’s big bet on the micro mobility business Bird (which could be publicly traded soon), to his views on decentralized finance, to his fitness regime (we had to ask, as Suster has shed 60 pounds since early last year). If you’re curious to hear that conversation, you can listen here. In the meantime, what follows are outtakes of his reflections on broader industry trends, including the feverish pace of deal-making.

On changing check seed-stage sizes, and how much time VCs have to write them right now:

It used to be 10 years ago that I could write a $3 million or $4 million or $5 million [check] and that was called an A round, and that company probably had raised a few hundred thousand dollars from angels and maybe some seed funds, and I could get a lot of data on how companies were doing. I could talk to customers. I could look at customer retention. I could look at a startup’s marginal cost structure. I could talk to references of the founders. I could take my time and be thoughtful . . .

Fast forward a decade, and $5 million is a seed round, and now there are pre seed rounds and “day zero” companies” and seed extensions and A rounds and “A prime,” there’s B . . . I’m not actually doing anything differently than I did 10 years ago, in terms of deploying capital, getting involved with founders very early, helping you build your executive team, set your strategy, work on pricing, [figure out] which market are you in, [figure out] the sequence of how you launch products and how to raise downstream capital. But the pressure on me is, I now need to make faster decisions. I need to be involved with your company earlier. So I’m taking a little more risk in terms of not being able to look at customers. You may not even have customers.

On why his firm is averse to today’s A and B rounds and leaning more heavily into growth rounds. (It just brought aboard a former Twitter exec to lead the charge here and has meanwhile plugged more than $50 million in to several of its portfolio companies, including Bird; Rally, an investing platform for buying shares in collectibles; and Apeel Sciences, which makes edible coatings for fruit.)

I would never rule out any round. But what I will tell you is that the new a round that I maybe have an aversion to is call it $20 million to $30 million. What does that imply? It implies that you’re paying a $50 million, $60 million, $70 million valuation. It implies that to really drive fund-level returns, you have to have $5 billion, $10 billion, or $15 billion outcomes or greater.

The world is producing more of those. There are maybe 11 companies in the United States that are pure startups that are worth more than $10 billion. I get it. But if you want to be writing $20 million A rounds where you’re taking that level of risk, you have to have a $700 million to an $800 million to a $1 billion fund. And I don’t want to be in that business, not because I think it’s bad, but it’s a different business that implies different skills. . .

We want to be super early, like the earliest capital, we’ll even take a risk on you want to leave your company and we’ve known you. Let’s say we knew you at Riot Games we knew you at Snapchat, we knew you at Facebook, we knew you when you were working at Stripe or PayPal. We will back you at formation — at day zero. We want to [then] skip the expensive rounds and come in later.

On whether Upfront invests in priced rounds as well as convertible notes, wherein an investor is entitled to invest at a discount to the next round:

I think there’s a lot of misnomers that rounds themselves aren’t priced. Almost every round is priced. People just think they’re not priced. So [maybe the question is] are willing to do convertible notes, are we willing to do SAFE notes, are we willing to do all this stuff, and the answer is yes. Now, most convertible notes, most SAFE notes, they don’t fix a price, but they have a cap. And the cap is the price. What I always try to tell founders is, what you have is a maximum price with no minimum price. If you were willing to just raise capital and set the price, you’d have a maximum and it’s better for you. But for whatever reason, a generation of founders has been convinced that it’s better not to set a price, which really what they’re doing is setting a max, not a [minimum], and I’m not going to have that argument again. People don’t understand it. [The short version is] we will do convertible notes; we would not fund something that had no maximum price.

Regarding how Upfront competes in a world where deals are happening within shorter time windows than ever before:

If you’re looking for [a firm that will invest after one call] you’re calling the wrong firm. We don’t have as much time to know if customers love your product. You may not even have customers. But please don’t mistake that. We spend as much time as we can getting to know the founders. We might know the founders for five years before they create a company. We might be the people egging them on to quit Disney and go create a company. So we really want to know the founder. The bet that we’re making is now more on the founder skills and vision than on customer adoption of a product. That’s really what’s changed for us.

I always tell founders: if someone is willing to fund you after a 30-minute meeting, that’s a really bad trade for you. If a fund is doing 35 investments or 50 investments or even 20 investments and they get it wrong because they didn’t do due diligence, okay, well, they have 19 or 30 other investments. If you get it wrong and you chose an investor who’s not helpful, not ethical, not leaning in, not supportive, not adding value, you live with that. There’s no divorce clause.

#apeel-sciences, #bird, #mark-suster, #tc, #thredup, #upfront-ventures, #venture-capital

Advanced rider assistance systems: Tech spawned by the politics of micromobility

The desire to achieve something as simple as keeping shared electric scooters off sidewalks has driven the development of some advanced technology in the micromobility industry. Once the province of geofencing, scooter companies are so eager to get a leg up on the competition that they’re now implementing technology similar to advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) usually found in cars.

Operators like Spin, Voi, Zipp, Bird and Superpedestrian are investing in camera-based or location-based tech that can detect and even correct poor rider behavior, sometimes going to the extent of slowing scooters to a stop if they’re riding on a sidewalk.

People riding or parking scooters on sidewalks is a big problem for cities and forms one of the main complaints from NIMBYist residents who dislike change all the more when it becomes a tripping hazard. Companies are trying to solve this problem with tech that effectively puts the onus of rider behavior on operators, which may result in cities requiring scooter operators to have this sort of ADAS tech.

Scooter ADAS is probably the most doable and cost-effective method that cities can use to prevent unwanted rider behavior. And, it’s far cheaper than trying to police rider behavior themselves, or, address the lack of protected cycling infrastructure.

“This technology comes from a need for protected bike lanes,” said Dmitry Shevelenko, co-founder and president of Tortoise, an automated vehicle positioning service for micromobility companies. “It exists in this world where riders kind of have to do things that aren’t that great for others, because they have nowhere else to go. And so that’s the true driver of the need for this.”

Cities can solve this problem for the long term by building bike lanes or creating scooter parking bays, but until that happens, operators need to reassure local administrations that micromobility is safe, compliant and a good thing for cities.

“Until cities have dedicated infrastructure for whatever new modality comes to play, you have to figure out a way to use technology to make sure things don’t mix poorly,” said Alex Nesic, co-founder and chief business officer of Drover AI, a computer vision startup that provides camera-based scooter ADAS. “That’s really what we’re after. We want to enable this kind of maturation of the industry.”

Street views versus satellite views

Drover AI works with Spin, while Luna, another computer vision company, works with Voi and Zipp to attach cameras, sensors and a microprocessor to scooters to detect lanes, sidewalks, pedestrians and other environmental surroundings.

#adas, #artificial-intelligence, #bird, #computer-vision-technology, #digisure, #e-bikes, #e-scooter, #ec-mobility-hardware, #ec-mobility-software, #hardware, #micromobility, #navmatic, #scooter, #spin, #startups, #tc, #tortoise, #transportation, #voi, #zipp

Bird is the latest operator to integrate its e-scooters and e-bikes with Google Maps

Micromobility company Bird has officially joined the ranks of e-scooter and e-bike operators that are integrated with Google Maps, which now surfaces nearby vehicles for users in the U.S.

Bird’s announcement comes just a day after Spin also announced its integration with Google Maps and just a few weeks after Lime, which has been integrated with Google Maps since 2019, announced an integration with transit planning app Moovit.

Bird already works with mobility-as-a-service platforms including Skipr, Tranzer and soon Whim in Antwerp and throughout Belgium. The company has also recently partnered with major national rail companies SNCF in France and Trenitalia in Italy. It plans to expand its Google Maps integration with Bird’s partner cities outside of the U.S. in the future, according to a spokesperson for the company. These sorts of integrations are par for the course as micromobility companies seek to become further entwined with the broader transportation ecosystem.

“As demand for sustainable transportation increases, Bird is committed to meeting this need while simultaneously reducing street traffic in already congested cities and towns,” said Bird CEO and founder Travis VanderZanden, in a statement. “Through our integration with Google Maps, we are making it easier for individuals to embrace new modes of eco-friendly travel and to ultimately eliminate our collective reliance on congestion inducing, gas-powered cars – especially in urban settings across the globe where a majority of trips are under five miles.”

As with Lime and Spin, Bird’s vehicles will show up as an option under the bike toggle of the Google Maps app. The app will show information such as estimated travel time, cost and environmental impact. Bird did not respond in time for publication to a request for information on whether estimated battery range would also be available, which is displayed with Lime and Spin’s vehicles on the app.

Users who choose to take a trip with Bird will have to click on the “unlock” button displayed on the bottom of the Google Maps screen, which will direct them to the Bird app, available on iOS and Android, to unlock and pay for a vehicle.

Bird’s news about its integration with Google Maps comes on the same day that the operator, along with Veo and Lime, launch New York City’s first e-scooter pilot in the Bronx. The timing of this launch alone would make this integration beneficial for Bird, but the scooter company potentially stands to gain even more in NYC. Last month, Google Maps began trialling a feature in the big apple to show users which train cars were the busiest in order to help riders social distance better. Now, those users can ostensibly choose to seek out a Bird or Lime vehicle via the app rather than cram into a packed subway car.

#bird, #ebikes, #google-maps, #lime, #shared-escooters, #spin, #transportation

Startups and investors are turning to micromobility subscriptions

Amid the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic and the murky path to profitability for shared electric micromobility, an increasing number of companies have turned to subscriptions. It’s a business model that some founders and investors argue hits the profit center sweet spot — an approach that appeals to customers who are wary of sharing as well as paying upfront to own a scooter or e-bike, all while minimizing overhead costs and depreciation of assets.

Many investors think the subscription model will broaden the micromobility market, positioning it essentially as a software-as-a-service business, which achieves a higher multiple.

Across the United States, Europe, some of Canada and at least one Middle Eastern city, existing mobility companies are adding a subscription business line to their repertoire, and entirely new companies are being formed on the basis of the hardware-as-a-service model. But will this new playbook push the unit economics of micromobility in a positive direction? And what will determine which companies win at the subscription game?

In general, subscriptions for everything from groceries and streaming video to exercise equipment and clothing are on an upward slope. Subscription businesses are expected to grow at a rate of 30% this year, according to a 2021 study by digital services monetization company Telecoming.

Micromobility vendors keen to follow other industries into this model are focused on several factors, according to experts following the industry: the ease of scaling, return on investment and cost-per-mile to operate.

“Subscription services for a single vehicle are far more interesting and scalable than the subscription model that was trialed by the shared mobility services,” Oliver Bruce, angel investor and co-host of the Micromobility Podcast with Horace Dediu, told TechCrunch. “The cost per kilometer is just an order of magnitude smaller, and it’s not constrained by citywide caps.”

Shawn Carolan, managing director at Menlo Ventures, is also bullish on the micromobility subscription model because it makes more sense for the consumer, as most people will prefer to pay a low monthly fee rather than a higher upfront fee.

“The best customers are repeat customers, commuters or local neighborhood trips,” Carolan said. “Repeatedly paying per ride is both expensive and cognitively taxing. People want low friction in transportation. Getting from here to there shouldn’t require a lot of thought.”

The key players: E-bikes

Bird and Lime might dominate the shared micromobility space, but they’re not leading the subscription market, largely because their bikes and scooters are built to be heavier and more robust in order to handle city usage. Their operating systems are also designed to manage fleets and keep the vehicles in specific territories within a city. Bird and Spin have announced intentions to offer subscriptions, but so far there’s only been a chance to sign up for a waitlist.

Meanwhile, subscription services tend to offer lighter-weight vehicles that can be carried up flights of stairs or even folded down.

Swapfiets, the bike-sharing company with the distinctive blue front wheel, is one of the pioneers in the world of bike-sharing. In 2015, Richard Burger, Martijn Obers and Dirk de Bruijn started the Dutch company as university students in Delft when they realized that owning a bike could be somewhat of a hassle. The Netherlands is renowned for having more bicycles than people, but that doesn’t make it any easier to buy, sell and maintain them, especially with such high fees at bike shops.

“We asked how we could shift this and get only benefits from using a bike to go from A to B and not have all this hassle,” Burger told TechCrunch. “And for us, the subscription model was really the realization that would fix that.”

#bird, #bive, #cabify, #e-bikes, #e-mopeds, #e-scooters, #ec-market-map, #ec-mobility-hardware, #ec-mobility-software, #electric-mobility, #grover, #lime, #revel, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #unagi, #venture-capital, #wire-rides, #zoomo, #zygg

The Station: Bird has drama in San Francisco, drone delivery startup Zipline raises $250M

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Happy 4th of July! For those of you who are actually checking your emails today while getting some sun at an overcrowded beach or diligently grilling hot dogs, welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.

Kirsten Korosec, your usual host, is off enjoying the great American outdoors, so please enjoy this takeover all the way from Auckland, New Zealand! Despite the winter chill down under and my singularity as an American on this island, I’m feeling particularly patriotic today. It was on this day 245 years ago that the 13 colonies declared themselves free and independent states, with all the power to establish commerce and pursue happiness and what not. 

As I sit here, a journalist, with a front row seat to the history of technological advancement, I can’t help but notice that the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, one that rebuffs authority for freedom to act as one chooses, is alive and well in the startup world. Technology, even in the transportation space, soars ever upward, unshackled in many cases by corresponding rules and regulations, and the government hastens to catch up. 

Don’t know what I mean? I had a conversation today with Lacuna CEO Hugh Martin, and he mentioned something that stayed with me and found its way into this rant. Venture capital is pouring into startups creating technology like eVTOL, air taxis, rockets and drones, but consider this: What is the ratio of startups building such futuristic tech compared to departments of transportation with aviation departments? Public private partnerships need to step up, and fast. 

Ok, rant over. Enjoy your firecrackers. 

Email me at rebecca.techcrunch@gmail.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also follow me on Twitter, but please don’t DM me. — @rebeccabellan.

Micromobbin’

Bird is having a tough week, pulling operations in San Francisco and Santa Monica, as well as Zaragoza in Spain. Both California cities had new scooter permits beginning on July 1, but there hasn’t been a Bird in sight since June 30.

In San Francisco, Bird goes by Scoot, the company it acquired in June 2019 that has been in SF for around a decade. Bird previously operated in the city, but was kicked out in 2018, along with Lime, so this was an off-hand way of making it back into the Golden City. This time around, the SFMTA is asking Bird to halt its operations, even as the 2021 permit program begins without it, and is also levying fines to the tune of $105,600 against the company. Apparently, Bird got caught implementing its fleet manager program with unauthorized subcontractors. The permit does allow for scooter companies to use subcontractors, but they need prior approval and proof of insurance, which Bird did not provide for at least three subcontractors. The SFMTA is currently deferring its decision on letting Bird back in until it has conducted an investigation into the matter.  

“Scoot is proud to have partnered with the city for nearly a decade providing shared micro electric vehicles for San Francisco,” a Bird spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We are cooperating fully with the SFMTA to swiftly resolve the clerical error that occurred while urgently providing existing local businesses an alternative source of revenue during the pandemic. We apologize for the inconvenience to our riders during this evaluation period and are eager to once again serve San Francisco residents and visitors as soon as possible.” 

Lime and Spin, on the other hand, have been asked to stay in San Francisco, so congrats to them. They’ll also be operating in Santa Monica, where Bird was again not chosen for the 2021 scooter program in large part because the city found Bird’s service to be lacking in safety and rider features, affordability and customer service, according to the Santa Monica selection committee scorecard shared with TechCrunch. The company filed an appeal and threatened litigation back in May, but was denied this week and basically told it didn’t have a legal basis for suing, according to letters between Bird’s attorneys and the City of Santa Monica shared with TechCrunch. 

Veo and Wheels will also be operating in Santa Monica. Meanwhile in Spain, the Zaragoza City Council asked Bird to cease operations from September onward due to noncompliance issues. 

Speaking of Veo, the company has been on a bit of a roll after winning the New York permit. This week, Veo unveiled what might be the industry’s first e-scooter with integrated turn signals, a sweet new safety feature that hopefully the rest of the industry will pick up on. Veo will deploy these scooters in Santa Monica and NYC next week. 

Forget sharing scooters. Go get your own.

Electric micromobility dealership Ridepanda is making it easier for the average consumer to purchase a sick light duty electric vehicle like a scooter, bike or moped. Its e-commerce platform displays vehicles that are vetted by the team to ensure high quality with replaceable parts. Once you order a vehicle that’s been curated for you and your needs, it’ll get shipped to your door (optional assembly person included). The startup just raised $3.75 million, an extension from last year’s seed round, from lead investors like Yamaha Motor Company, Porsche Ventures and Proeza Ventures.

Something for everyone?

Have you ever felt like the electric micromobility space hasn’t been badass enough? Well, Evolve Skateboards has the solution for you! Its new Hadean Series skateboard can zoom up to 31 mph, and its battery can go up to 42 miles on a single charge. Rather than a wooden board, this gnarly ride’s frame is made with forged carbon composite making it strong enough to handle increased speeds and next level ollies. The cost is in the $2,500 to $3,000 range, so it’s certainly a toy for the dedicated thrill seeker.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

Drone delivery startup Zipline, a company that got its start delivering medical supplies across Africa, has raised $250 million in new funding. This latest round has vaulted the company’s valuation to $2.75 billion and will fuel further expansion of its logistics networks in Africa and the United States.

Big bets are being made in the instant logistics space. While Zipline is pretty focused on delivering health supplies at the moment, it’s open to expanding into other industries as time goes on. Either way, it’s doing very well with partnerships like UPS in Rwanda, the Toyota Group in Japan and Novant Health and Walmart in the U.S.

Other deals that caught my attention…

Microsoft and Sompo Holdings have committed a combined $25 million as part of a partnership with connected vehicle data startup Wejo that will help the company collect, store and analyze data from millions of connected vehicles around the world. This follows Wejo’s SPAC merger with Virtuoso Acquisition Corp., which should close later this year. The company’s total PIPE financing is $125 million. 

While we’re talking SPACs, electric vehicle charging station network EVgo, which announced its SPAC deal with Climate Change Crisis Real Impact I Acquisition Corp. back in January, has completed its business combination with CLII. The combined company will go by “EVgo Inc.” and has been trading as such on the NASDAQ since July 2.

Turntide Technologies, a sustainable technology developer that’s created a smart electric motor system, has announced $225 million in convertible note financing that it says will help fund projects to reduce carbon emissions in the commercial buildings, agriculture and transportation industries.The money comes from the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, Monashee Capital, JLL Spark, Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Suvretta Capital Management, bringing Turntide’s total funding to $400 million

Autonomous driving system developer Ghost Locomotion has raised a $100 million in Series D funding in a round led by Sutter Hill Ventures. Returning investor Founders Fund also participated in the round, along with Coatue. The money will be used toward R&D as the company continues to develop its highway self-driving and crash prevention technology.

Australian rocket launch startup Gilmour Space Technologies has raised $46 million in a Series C that it will use to take its small launch vehicle, Eris, to space next year. The round was led by Fine Structure Ventures and included contributions from Australian VCs Blackbird and Main Sequence, and Australian pension funds HESTA, Hostplus and NGS Super. 

You probably don’t remember, but a little while back we covered Onto, an electric vehicle subscription service in the U.K. Well, this model appears to be catching. A similar business going by imove in Norway has just raised around $19 million in a Series A led by pan-European online car market AutoScout24, venture capital player Norselab, and the Norwegian state climate investment company Nysnø.

Ghanaian-based software company Jetstream just raised $3 million in seed funding. The company aims to enable African businesses to see and control their own cross-border supply chains. It aggregates private sector logistics providers at African ports and borders, and brings them online. Local and international investors participated in the round, including Alitheia IDF, Golden Palm Investments, 4DX Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Asia Pacific Land, Breyer Labs and MSA Capital.

Electric propulsion and powertrain developer Enedym raised $15 million from a round led by P&A Paletta Giving Inc., TRIO Capital Group Inc., Napino Group, KWG Capital Inc., Pathfinder Asset Management Limited and others. The Canadian company will use the funds to accelerate its patented motor development tech and get into more of the electric motor market, including automotive, micromobility, windfarms and industrial markets.

Policy corner

the-station-deliveryHi folks, welcome back to Policy Corner. Let’s dive in.

Mayors from nine American cities, including Los Angeles and Denver, sent a letter on June 30 urging federal lawmakers to include funds for planning grants for advanced air mobility (AAM) in the massive infrastructure legislation currently being debated in Congress. The letter, shared with TechCrunch by a source familiar with the matter, argues that federal grant funding for planning studies would help cities better understand and prepare for AAM technology.

The brief letter is fuzzy on the details. The mayors request a “modest” amount of funding. The source told TechCrunch that it would likely be in the low tens of millions, with the assumption that a one-year planning study in a large metropolitan city would cost around $1 million. So the total funds would cover around 15-20 cities. The idea is that this information could inform future rule-makings or even the Federal Aviation Administration’s reauthorization bill that’s coming up in 2023.

One thing that’s notable about the letter is a line that starts, “When this new transportation technology launches in 2024 and beyond … ”. While 2024 has been publicly set as a launch target for eVTOL developer like Archer Aviation and Joby Aviation, timelines are a tricky thing for emerging technologies.

In any case, I’ll be keeping track of these developments. It’s hard to imagine Congressional Republicans agreeing to funding for AAM when they could hardly agree on electric vehicles, but we’ll see — the low tens of millions may be a blip on the budget line of such a large funding package.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on June 29 issued an order requiring OEMS and drivers of vehicles equipped with autonomous driving systems to report crashes within one day of learning about them. The order specifically relates to SAE Level 2 advanced driver assistance systems or SAE Levels 3-5 automated driving systems. Any incident that involves an injury that had to be treated at a hospital, a death, a vehicle tow-away, air bag deployment, or a pedestrian or bicyclist must be reported, the order says.

NHTSA says the data collected from this order will help identify safety issues or defects in the technology. “By mandating crash reporting, the agency will have access to critical data that will help quickly identify safety issues that could emerge in these automated systems,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s acting administrator. “In fact, gathering data will help instill public confidence that the federal government is closely overseeing the safety of automated vehicles.”

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

the station electric vehicles1

Extra Crunchy

Alex Wilhelm explored some financials about Uber and its Chinese rival Didi, which is looking to list in the U.S. The company’s IPO filing was big news, but it appears to be valued several tens of billions of dollars lower than Uber, despite the fact that it’s larger and more profitable. 

Renaissance Capital calculates Didi’s midpoint valuation using a fully diluted share count at $67.5 billion, and Yahoo Finance pegged Uber at $95.2 billion. Why the large difference? Wilhelm speculates it could have something to do with Uber’s more expanded reach and different revenue streams, like its delivery business, as Didi is mostly concentrated on its Chinese mobility business. 

Rimac Automobili sat down with Kirsten Korosec to share his lessons from bootstrapping his EV company during our TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event. 

We actually bootstrapped a car company. We had revenue from day one, not because we wanted to, but because there was no alternative and there was absolutely no other way for us. So most of the years in business, we are actually profitable. And that’s pretty tough.

You have these big electric car startups that have received billions of funding and so on. Hats off to them, great job. But we had to survive from the very beginning by the stuff that we were doing and making for other car companies.

GM’s newest startup investment BrightDrop boasts an ecosystem of EV hardware and logistical software products targeting fleet and delivery companies. GM has invested $800 million to convert a Canadian factory that currently builds the Chevy Equinox to build the EV600 delivery van.

Electric vehicles 

Chinese EV maker NIO released its June delivery results. It delivered 8,083 units of smart electric vehicles which it says is a YOY increase of 116%. In Q2 in total it delivered nearly 22,000 vehicles, and in the first half of 2021, it delivered nearly 42,000 vehicles. Ok, NIO, we see you.

Honda will be selling its first electric SUV in North America in early 2024. The new car’s name, Prologue, is meant to signify the beginning of what the company called its “new electrified era.”

Revel, the company that started with electric moped shares and now has its hands in a lot of electric mobility pies, has officially launched its Superhub in Brooklyn. With 25 chargers all in one place and easily accessible, it’s the largest universal charging station in North America, the company says. 

This week Volvo Cars detailed its strategy for electrifying its entire car lineup by 2030. It plans to work with partners like Northvolt, Google and Luminar to build out its future vehicles lineup. It also unveiled the first images of “Concept Recharge,” a concept EV that has flat floors, two interior screens and rear “suicide doors” that open from the middle of the vehicle.

Autonomous vehicles

Pittsburgh-based autonomous trucking company Locomotion is pitching a convoy system in which a lead driver pilots a truck and another truck, with a human passenger/backup operator, follows it autonomously. The company told TechCrunch it thinks using such a human-guided system will be the fastest and smoothest route to commercialization. 

Aurora’s CEO Chris Urmson shared some thoughts on the progress the company has made on commercializing the Aurora Driver and delivering it at scale. 

Data is power

Kruze Consulting, a startup CFO/accounting firm with access to the books of over 450 venture-funded startups, has shared some data with TechCrunch that shows ride-share spend is rebounding in the startup world, with Uber expanding its lead against Lyft. The study also found cost per ride is higher than 2020 averages, likely due to a scarcity of drivers. 

Stockholm-based e-scooter operator Voi released a study that demonstrates how partnerships between operators and transit authorities can lead to higher public transit ridership. The study specifically details how a joint initiative with Stuttgart’s rail operator S-Bahn Stuttgart to integrate Voi and the Mobility Stuttgart app, saw at least a 35% increase in rail tickets purchased by Voi users. 

Fresh meat

Autonomous delivery company Nuro announced the appointment of James Owens as the company’s new head of Regulatory. 

Anthony Gregory, former VP of ground operations at Southwest, has joined GM-owned Cruise as the new VP of market development. 

Other tidbits

Columbus, Ohio won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge in 2015. Smart City Columbus ran from 2016 until mid-June 2021, using all kinds of new tech to improve its transportation system and general mobility. What did Columbus do with its $50 million in grant money? Check out all the tech that went into the Smart City.

BMW i Ventures, the venture capital arm of BMW Group, has announced a new $300 million fund to further its investment in technologies that make transportation, manufacturing and supply chains more sustainable. This isn’t about core car tech. It’s about everything that goes into making the cars, from sustainable materials for car seats to decarbonizing metal. 

Ford is partnering with insurance company State Farm to share vehicle data to better understand how safety features impact claims. A statement from Ford reads: “Ford’s new Vehicle Build Data product provides State Farm a comprehensive view of a vehicle’s feature content and a better understanding of how advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) impact the frequency and severity of auto claims. State Farm is also sharing claims data with Ford to help inform them on how specific vehicle features impact auto claims.” 

Last mile logistics management software company Onfleet has announced its 100 millionth delivery and significant company growth. 

General Motors has announced the creation of a new $25 million Climate Equity Fund for equitable climate action. This is intended as a complement to the automaker’s recently announced $35 billion investment into EV and AV technologies globally through 2025.

#automotive, #autonomous-driving, #bird, #electric-vehicles, #ridepanda, #tc, #the-station, #transportation, #zipline

The Station: Quanergy and Embark to go public via SPAC, Spin and Bird announce fresh launches

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.

As you are reading this, I’ll be preparing to head out for an adventure, joining thousands of others who plan to jump in their cars, trucks, SUVs, and of course, vans and RVs for the great American road trip. While much of my time will be spent hiking in more remote wilderness, I will end up in Yellowstone National Park, which promises to be a busy affair. For those of you who are shaking your heads wondering why I would subject myself to the masses, I say consider this fun tidbit: According to one local guidebook, 98% of visitors to Yellowstone can be found within one mile of any trailhead. My previous anecdotal experiences supports this stat; I’ve found that most stick to their cars, paved paths, overlooks and boardwalks. I will not be.

I will, however, make one exception while I’m in the park. I plan to check out the autonomous shuttle that will be piloted in the park. Beep, in partnership with Local Motors, will be operating the autonomous shuttle called T.E.D.D.Y., which stands for The Electric Driverless Demonstration in Yellowstone. T.E.D.D.Y. is meant to give homage to former President Theodore Roosevelt.

The company plans to operate two routes, seven days a week. Information collected during the pilot will be used to inform future deployments in national parks across the country.

Happy trails.

Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

It’s been a week of funding announcements and new vehicles in the micromobility world. Two of the e-scooter giants, Spin and Bird, have announced some fresh launches. Spin’s got its first in-house designed and built electric scooter, which it’s calling the S-100T. The T is for “tough,” which is how Spin is positioning this scooter. It can get beat up on the streets, and in testing, and still last up to three years, maybe even more. Spin will start rolling out its scooter when it launches in Sacramento in July.

Bird is launching some e-bikes to its fleet of e-scooters, which will start in Cleveland, Ohio later this year. Bird’s choice to become multi-modal happens at a time when its biggest competitor, Lime, has already had bikes and is now working with e-mopeds. Bird is also launching a ‘Smart Bikeshare’ platform, wherein local shared e-bike and e-moped (but NOT e-scooter) operators can put their vehicles on the Bird app, thus making it seem like Bird has more of a multi-modal fleet than it does, and giving the local operators some more clout and attention. 

Following the money

Speaking of local operators, micromobility software provider Joyride believes more small shared e-scooter and e-bike businesses are cropping up, especially in areas where Bird and Lime pulled out during the pandemic. To help those companies get a fleet, launch it and manage it is Joyride. The company has been around since 2014, but just raised a $3.7 million seed round so that it can expand its services and help reach more local operators

And while we’re on the subject of funding, New Zealand-based electric utility bike startup Ubco has just raised $10 million to fund its global expansion, with a focus on the U.S. market, and scale up its commercial subscription business. Full disclosure, I’m currently in Auckland testing one of these things out and it’s “smooth as,” as the Kiwis say, so keep your eyes out for a review of the bike. 

The Ubco 2X2 vehicle, which looks like a dirt bike and rides like a moped, started as a way to get farmers around the pasture, but the founders soon saw the utility vehicle’s utility beyond the farm. Now, the company supplies bikes to enterprise fleets, mail services, logistics and more. Ubco is working on a subscription model to make it easier for customers to rent a vehicle with no commitment, and easier for the company to own vehicle end-of-life in a sustainable way. 

Safety first

Tier Mobility, the Berlin-based e-scooter company that recently won one of the London permits and signed on some $60 million worth of debt from Goldman Sachs, has published an e-scooter safety report. The company formed a group called the Tier UK Safety Board in conjunction with charities and transport experts, Tier says. The group is calling for higher safety standards across the sector to protect pedestrians and improve rider safety, particularly for those who are blind or partially sighted.

Might this report just be a ploy for Tier to flex its safety records? Probably, but are the safety suggestions this group is likely trying to make into law also stuff that Tier already does? Also, yes, probably. Here are the things: 

By the way, over at Extra Crunch, I interviewed Veo CEO Candice Xie. I think you’ll find it’s worth checking out.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the weekmoney the station

It’s been a SPAC-tacular week. Yes, I went there.

SPACs, or special purpose acquisition companies, have received a lot of attention in this newsletter. And that’s because the financial instrument, which allows a faster but more expensive path to an IPO, has inundated the transportation sector. Some 22 mobility SPACs occurred in 2020 with the majority of them involving electric vehicle manufacturers like the troubled Nikola Motors and Lordstown Motors, as well as Canoo, which has had its own drama, and Fisker.

In 2021, we’ve seen aviation-related companies take the SPAC plunge along with lidar companies and autonomous vehicle startups. This week, we had solid state lidar company Quanergy and self-driving trucks startup Embark make SPAC deals.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

BMW’s Silicon Valley-based venture capital arm is investing in Kodiak Robotics, a company that develops autonomous trucking technology. While the terms of the deal were not disclosed, Kodiak told TechCrunch that BMW’s investment was financial, not strategic, meaning there’s no technical partnership between the two companies.

Clean Mobility Options Voucher Pilot Program awarded vouchers for mobility projects worth $18 million to eligible under-resourced communities and $2 million set aside and awarded specifically to Native American tribal governments. The funds will be used to support projects that includes on-demand shuttles and microtransit, electric vehicle car sharing, bike and scooter-sharing, carpooling and vanpooling and ride-on-demand services.

Electra Vehicles, which develops software to optimize EV battery system performance, raised $3.6 million in seed funding. The round was led by BlackBerry Limited and the Italian investment group LIFTT S.p.A, with further participation from Club degli Investitori, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, Hyperplane Venture Capital, Prithvi Ventures, Launchpad Venture Group and TiE Boston Angels.

Holy Grail, a two-year-old startup based in Mountain View, California that is taking a micro approach to solving the outsized problem of capturing carbon, raised $2.7 million in seed funding from LowerCarbon Capital, Goat Capital, Stripe founder Patrick Collison, Charlie Songhurst, Cruise co-founder Kyle Vogt, Songkick co-founder Ian Hogarth, Starlight Ventures and 35 Ventures. Existing investors Deep Science Ventures, Y Combinator and Oliver Cameron, who co-founded Voyage, the autonomous vehicle acquired by Cruise, also participated.

IoTecha, an electric vehicle charging company, has raised $13.2 million in a round led by BP Ventures. The venture firm invested $7 million into the fund. IoTecha connects EV chargers with the electricity grid through its software platform. Their product allows private and fleet vehicles from any manufacturer to communicate with charging stations to signal when they need recharging. It works by gathering information over time, identifying patterns and the energy requirements of each user across all forms of EV charging. IoTecha said that it will use the investment to scale its technology throughout BP’s electrification network.

Lendbuzz, an auto finance platform, has raised $360 million in capital and debt. The $60 million in funding was led by Wellington Management joined by Goldman Sachs & Co and MUFG Innovation Partners. The $300 million in debt financing was led by Goldman Sachs Bank USA. The company, which sells its loan origination and servicing software to dealerships, said it will use the funds to continue its expansion in the United States.

Nikola Corporation is investing $50 million in cash and stock in exchange for a 20% equity in a clean hydrogen project being developed by Wabash Valley Resources LLC. The project will use solid-waste and biomass to produce hydrogen for transportation fuel and electricity generation. Pablo Koziner, Nikola’s President of Energy and Commercial, said in a press release that the project should support future truck sales and the rollout of hydrogen stations throughout the Midwest.

Sendle, a shipping carrier that uses carbon offsetting to run carbon neutral operations for small businesses, has raised a $35 million Series C. The round was led by AP Ventures, with participation from existing investors including Federation, Full Circle and NRMA. Sendle said it would use the funds to expand its operations in the U.S.

Uber reached a deal to become the sole owner of Latin American delivery startup Cornershop, one year after acquiring a majority stake in the company. Uber is acquiring the remaining 47% interest in Cornershop in exchange for 29 million shares. The transaction, which will make Cornershop a wholly owned subsidiary of Uber, is expected to close in July.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Hi folks, welcome back to Policy Corner. We’ve got a short one this week but I promise the piece of news is a big one.

President Joe Biden and a group of Senators have struck a deal on a massive infrastructure bill after months of debate. The $1.2 trillion agreement touches nearly all traditional forms of infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and railways – but it also includes some funds for electric transportation.

Unsurprisingly, this was one of the major sources of disagreement among lawmakers, so the funds for these initiatives is far, far less than what Biden originally proposed when he introduced the bill in March. He originally included new rebates for EV purchases, a proposal that’s been wiped from the new bill.

However, the bill does earmark $7.5 billion for electric buses and $7.5 billion to build out EV charging stations. While this is perhaps less than what advocates had been hoping for (and truthfully just a sliver of the original proposal), it’s still a big improvement from last year’s spending on such initiatives.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

the station electric vehicles1

As per ushe, there is a lot of news. Let’s get to it.

Autonomous vehicles

Aurora‘s Board of Directors gained a new member: Sonos’ chief financial officer Brittany Bagley. The company said in a blog post that she brings “a keen understanding of how to ship industry-defining products and a strong sense of fiscal stewardship.”

Plus has hired Lynn Miller as General Counsel. Miller was formerly the Deputy General Counsel at Tesla, where she led Tesla’s privacy program, handled government inquiries and investigations, and led its litigation strategy. Prior to working at Tesla, Miller was part of Apple’s litigation team. 

Pony.ai is considering going public, company CEO James Peng told Reuters on Friday. The company also announced that Lawrence Steyn, vice chairman of investment banking at JPMorgan Chase, would join as chief financial officer. The autonomous tech unicorn has operated robotaxis with human safety drivers in Irvine, California as well as China.

Volvo’s flagship electric SUV, which will debut in 2022, will be outfitted with Luminar’s autonomous driving stack as standard. When the two companies announced the partnership last year, the arrangement was that customers would have to pay extra for Luminar’s system. No longer! But customers will have to pay to access the Highway Pilot functionality, which takes drivers ‘out of the loop’ on highway roads once conditions are verified as safe.

Electric vehicles

Electric Last Mile Solutions, a company that manufactures and sells electric vans and trucks to fleet customers, is heading to the Nasdaq on Monday. ELMS is merging with special purpose acquisition company Forum Merger III Corporation in a SPAC deal valued at $1.4 billion. The SPAC transaction, which was announced last December, will give ELMS $379 million in gross cash proceeds, including $155 million in private investment in public equity (PIPE) funding from private investors BNP Paribas Asset Management and Jennison Associates. The company will be listed on the NYSE under the ticker symbol “ELMS.”

Panasonic divested the entirety of its Tesla stock last fiscal year for around $3.61 billion, Nikkei Asia reported. Panasonic is Tesla’s electric-vehicle battery supplier for its Nevada Gigafactory, and the two companies have had a partnership going back over a decade. An executive for the Japanese company told Nikkei that that relationship “will not change going forward.”

Toyota has entered into an intended partnership VivoPower to use its electrical vehicle convertor kits in Toyota LandCruisers. Through the deal, VivoPower will have exclusivity for the electrification of LandCruisers for five years. This is the first time Toyota has approved an external drive train supplier since Tesla in 2011. The conversion kits will be designed and manufactured by VivoPower subsidiary Tembo e-LV B.V. 

Ride-hailing

Revel’s plans to deploy a fleet of ride-hailing Teslas may have hit a major block after New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission voted against issuing new for-hire vehicle licenses to EVs. The Verge’s Andrew Hawkins said the vote was seen as a snub toward the startup. Revel was planning on launching a ride-hailing service using a fleet of Tesla Model Ys.

Other bits

Ryder System, a company that offers heavy-duty truck rentals to commercial fleet customers, was hacked last December. In a letter posted to Vermont’s Attorney General website, the Miami-based company said it was notifying 3,563 individuals of the “unauthorized intrusion.” Customers’ driver’s license numbers, social security numbers (which I’m told by TechCrunch writer Zack Whittaker is highly unusual), and other identifying information was potentially involved in the data breach. 

Porsche is going into the battery business. The automaker announced a new joint venture with Customcells to open a 100 megawatt-hours battery manufacturing plant in Germany. For reference, that’s enough batteries for around 1,000 vehicles. The batteries will be manufactured for Porsche’s line of racing and high-performance vehicles.

#automotive, #bird, #electric-vehicles, #embark, #lime, #quanergy, #spin, #tc, #the-station, #transportation

Veo CEO Candice Xie has a plan for building a sustainable scooter company, and it’s working

Startups are the embodiment of frenetic action. The rush to grow, outrun, and disrupt runs in the lifeblood of today’s entrepreneurs, driving their fervor and enabling them to capture markets from giants of industries too big to maneuver in a quickly changing landscape.

That has been truer for the mobility landscape than most other industries. Companies like electric scooter providers Lime and Bird have raised tons of capital to change how the urban population gets around, but that growth has come at the cost of a bottom line still in the red.

So it’s striking to see electric scooter company Veo take a different approach to the business. Rather than raising venture capital and scaling quickly, the company does business the old-fashioned way: Proving the model works in one market before moving to the next. This slower, more methodical approach has worked in Veo’s favor — it might be the only company in its industry that has been consistently profitable.

Veo’s approach reflects its co-founder and CEO Candice Xie’s belief that transportation is not an industry that allows companies to scale rapidly and turn a big profit within a year, and especially not if it’s going to make sense for a city. Electric scooters aren’t just a business to Xie — they’re a utility, a tool that can be best implemented through patient collaboration between public and private partners. The CEO has taken this ethos and executed Veo’s business model with the expectation that it will make the company the most impactful in the industry.

A former financial planner for automation solutions company, Schneider Electric, in Chicago, Xie launched Vue in 2017, partly inspired by the bike-share boom in Asia. She was decidedly against the poor quality bikes many operators were deploying at the time, and was also frustrated by the lack of affordable, safe and convenient transportation in Chicago. After some market research, Xie and her co-founder, Yanke (Edwin) Tan, a bike engineer, discovered the gap in last-mile transportation in the United States.

The following interview, part of an ongoing series with founders who are building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity. 

In your Medium post titled “Sorry, Boys. The First Profitable Micromobility Company Was Veo, Not Lime,” you fired some shots at Lime and the tech bro-ey micromobility industry at large. That was pretty bold. 

Thank you! I think because of the VC money and also the hype in the industry, a lot of people just forget how easy and simple the business should be. That’s why I put out the post. It was just time to say something in the industry and help people to understand.

What made you write it?

That was actually the time when Lime announced they were the first ones to achieve profitability, and that’s through EBITDA, and a lot of people were clapping for them. I was compelled to write because many people who follow the industry asked me, “Hey, it seems their approach is working? Should we follow suit? Why are you taking a different approach?”

I felt like that statement from Lime was quite misleading for a lot of people, and I don’t think that was a responsible statement, either. So that made me feel like I should use my insight and just explain things a bit more openly with our information.

#bird, #e-scooters, #ec-mobility-hardware, #electric-scooters, #electric-vehicles, #founders, #lime, #micromobility, #moped-scooter, #rideshare, #scooter-sharing, #scooters, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #veo

Bird launches shared e-bikes and opens its app to local shared operators

Bird has announced the launch of shared e-bikes to its fleet of e-scooters, which it says can be found in over 250 cities around the world. The shared micromobility provider is also launching a so-called ‘Smart Bikeshare’ platform that allows local shared bike and e-moped providers and transit apps to integrate with Bird’s app. 

“Shared e-scooters catapulted shared micromobility to the center stage of eco-friendly transportation in cities by providing more than 150 million zero-emission trips globally,” said Travis VanderZanden, founder and CEO of Bird, in a statement. “We are launching our shared Bird Bike and Smart Bikeshare platform to meet fast-growing demand from cities and riders for more sustainable transportation options while expanding our serviceable addressable market by 5 billion trips per year.” 

This announcement comes just a month after Bird dropped its new Bird Three scooter with better battery life. The micromobility giant’s shared e-bike will roll out later this year, with Cleveland, Ohio, being one of the first markets, according to a spokesperson for the company. In a statement, Bird said the bike will be available in select cities throughout North America, Italy, Spain, Germany, Ireland and France this year. Bird did not say how many e-bikes it would be launching or give a more specific launch date.

Bird also did not respond to whether or not the e-bike is designed or manufactured by the company, and if not, which manufacturer the company is working with.

The Bird Bike is built on a 75-pound frame with a step-through design that can drive riders up hills with as much as a 20% grade, according to the company. It’ll have a front basket, large pneumatic tires and all the on-board geofencing and diagnostics that you’d expect from a Bird vehicle. 

The Bird Bike is not Bird’s first bike. In the summer of 2019, the company unveiled its Bird Cruiser, an electric cross between a bike and a moped that could seat up to two people. But they decided to pause the pilot last year at the onset of the pandemic, according to a spokesperson for the company.

Bird’s bikeshare platform has already kicked off in Italy with local e-moped company Zig Zag, displaying the Italian company’s vehicles alongside its own in the Bird app. Bird says it wants to collaborate with other micromobility companies around the world and is in talks with groups like the North American Bikeshare Association to do so in the U.S. 

Bird did not answer questions about whether it would receive a cut of local operators’ profits if booked through the Bird app.

In a statement from the company, Bird’s bikeshare platform makes the company “the first scooter operator to integrate with local shared bike and e-moped providers.” Bird does not currently have plans to integrate third party, e-scooter providers into their app, according to the company.

If Bird isn’t collaborating with local e-scooter providers, sharing its platform with e-bike and e-moped providers allows it the chance to have more of a multi-modal presence without doing the heavy lifting of actually launching multi-modal fleets. At the very least, these collaborations will also give Bird a better idea of where and how riders are using different vehicles, which could help the company decide on new mobility modes to invest in, while also informing its own expansion plans, especially in Europe.

Bird did not confirm whether this is a part of its bikeshare platform strategy.

 

 

#bird, #transportation

Micromobility software provider Joyride raises $3.7 million seed round

Joyride, a Toronto-based company that provides white label apps, back-end analytics and multi-modal fleet management for shared micromobility startups, has raised $3.7 million — seed money that it says will help it reach a greater number of small, local operators. 

The company, which operates in more than 160 markets in every continent besides Antarctica, has primarily been able to generate enough revenue to support its business since its founding in 2014. With the fresh capital, Joyride will double down on its ability to help local operators find and finance the right vehicles, access insurance programs from trusted partners and learn how to deploy a profitable fleet. Joyride has already offered these services to an extent alongside its SaaS business model, but wants to feature them more prominently as its business grows.

“Really early on in the pandemic, we saw companies like Bird and Lime pull out of almost every market they were in, and then almost right away we started to get a lot of local entrepreneurs from those cities contacting us and saying, ‘Hey, Bird and Lime just left. I see a real opportunity here for me to run a micromobility business for myself,’” Joyride’s founder and CEO Vince Cifani told TechCrunch.

Since last year, Joyride has seen interest from entrepreneurs looking to start small scooter and e-bike share businesses increase four-fold compared to pre-pandemic numbers, Cifani said. That looks like about 150 requests per week. Joyride’s stats point to an emerging trend of local operators beginning to spring up in the parts of the world perhaps deemed too small fry for the big operators. 

Over the last couple of years, the industry seems to have been on the consolidation path, especially when we look at acquisitions like Lime buying Jump and Boosted and Bird buying Circ and Scoot. But we haven’t really seen consolidation among the hundreds of smaller businesses operating locally, said Cifani. And while they may be small individually, they’re mighty in numbers, quietly cropping up in towns and cities across the globe and privately at hotels and on campuses. In some cases, like with The Hague in the Netherlands, fleets are being operated by public transit. 

As local operators proliferate, the opportunity for companies like Joyride grows. In Germany, a similar software provider Wunder Mobility recently launched a lending division to help micromobility startups finance fleets.

“We’ve identified that there are over 10,000 different markets for these types of local operators to run this type of business,” said Cifani. “So if it’s taken Bird, say, half a billion dollars to get into 100 plus markets, are they actually going to raise $100 billion to try and get into every single market opportunity in the world? The inflection point for us is that there’s a huge opportunity for this long tail market, and we’ve seen Bird try to pivot into that space as well with its fleet manager model.”

Under Bird’s fleet manager model, which made up 94% of the company’s “sharing” revenue in the second half of 2020, the vehicles and software are supplied to local operators. Bird always maintains ownership and branding of the scooters. The fleet managers are responsible for fleet deployment and rebalancing, sanitization, and general care and maintenance of the Bird vehicles. In exchange, the operators receive a portion of the fee that users pay to rent the scooters.

Joyride is different. The company helps customers buy fleets outright from manufacturing partners and in some cases helps them finance their vehicles.

Where the big players like Bird and Lime have chased scale in the push to become profitable, Cifani says many of Joyride’s operators running smaller operations tell him they’ve paid back the money for all their vehicles within a few months. 

Joyride’s seed round was led by Proeza Ventures, Urban Innovation Fund and Craig Miller, former CPO of Shopify, a platform that has similarly helped democratize the e-commerce space. Cifani says Joyride will be doing a Series A in the near future.

#bike-share, #bird, #ebike, #ebikes, #joyride, #lime, #micromobility, #transportation, #venture-capital

Ford-owned Spin shakes up scooter business with new CEO, e-bikes and city strategy

Spin, the Ford-owned micromobility operator, has added a new CEO, launched a new strategy to capture market share and announced a plan to get back into bike share, although this time with an electric twist. 

The flurry of moves suggest that Spin is still trying to figure out the best path forward to push past its rivals and become profitable. Under the changes announced Thursday, co-founder and CEO Derrick Ko is moving to a strategic advisory role, along with the other two co-founders Zaizhuang Cheng and Euwyn Poon. In Ko’s place is Ben Bear, who previously served as CBO of Spin.

Alongside the change in leadership, Spin is deploying e-bikes for the first time, expanding to multiple cities in the U.S. and Europe, implementing new technologies and coming for Bird as the Number Two e-scooter company in the country (behind Lime, of course). 

Pressure among micromobility operators to actually turn a profit is increasing, so Spin is flexing its compliance record in order to secure those limited vendor permits. The end game is to angle for more exclusive, and perhaps more lucrative, partnerships with cities. Amid all this activity are reports that Ford might be divesting Spin into a separate company, including a sale or spinoff of the subsidiary. Which leads us to wonder in which direction the new CEO will be steering this ship. 

“We’re full speed ahead on the hiring front, and we’ve got ambitious growth plans for this year, heading into 2022 and beyond,” Bear told TechCrunch. “We really think the market is reaching a tipping point where cities are more and more moving towards limited vendor permits, which is right where we’re focused and have been focused throughout our history.”

(Spin would not comment on the reports of Ford divesting the e-scooter company.) 

Most cities have evolved from an unregulated market to an open one, and many, like Atlanta and Washington, D.C., are operating limited vendor permits. Spin is counting on this trend continuing to exclusive vendor permits, similar to the deal Lyft-owned Citi Bike has made with New York City. This might mean going after mid-tier cities that charge Spin less in fees, or even pay them to operate.

“In Bakersfield, we recently received a $1.1 million state grant to install infrastructure and conduct the program, and then $257,000 from the city as well to make sure that the project was supported, and that we’re able to offer low-cost rides to residents who need that,” said Bear. 

In Grand Rapids, Spin is working with nonprofits to deliver scooters as an addition to public transportation, and in Pittsburgh, the company has integrated with the public transit app to make different types of mobility as frictionless as possible. 

“We definitely see ourselves as part of that broader ecosystem, which includes public transit,” said Bear. 

Spin claims that its win rate on new markets in the U.S. is 85% and its renewal rate is 93%. However, the company has lost a few big permit awards, including New York City and Paris. Of its nearly 100 markets in the U.S., a large majority are made up of mid-tier cities and college campuses. Spin says it will be in up to 25 additional U.S. markets through the rest of the year, with plans to expand to Portugal and Ireland, as well. 

Of Spin’s nearly 100 markets in the U.S. and Europe, over 70% are limited vendor exclusive, according to Bear. He says Spin’s reputation of ensuring safety, compliance and equitable service for residents makes it a trusted city partner. The company has an 85% win rate in new markets and a 93% renewal rate, according to Spin’s data. But if it wants to monopolize the micromobility of cities, it has to provide a multi-modal fleet. Enter electric bikes. 

Spin also announced plans to roll out up to 5,000 e-bikes on the streets this year, starting with Providence, Rhode Island on June 14. It will also bring e-bikes, as well as e-scooters, to recently won markets like Fort Collins, Colorado; Bakersfield, California; and Penn State University — all of which are exclusive partnerships. 

Spin was founded as a pedal bike share in 2017, but pivoted to e-scooters the following year. Of the major micromobility companies, Spin is a bit late to the e-bike party. Bear says the company wanted to delay bringing e-bikes to market until the form factor had developed enough to be as compelling as its scooters. This prudence could just as well hurt the success of its e-bike program if Spin isn’t bringing something as good as an e-bike that’s already been through multiple iterations of deployed field use. First-generation hardware is rarely, if ever, perfect out the gate. And since Spin hasn’t run a fleet of e-bikes yet, it might not be the smoothest management transition. 

Either way, e-bikes aren’t the only iron in Spin’s fire. True to its promise of being what cities want a micromobility operator to be, Spin is thinking strategically about technological add-ons. For example, Spin has partnered with computer vision startup Drover AI to launch its Spin Insight Level 2, or a bundle of sensors, cameras and on-board computing power to detect sidewalk and bike lane riding and validate parking. Spin launched this new capability for the first time on Wednesday, deploying 100 Drover-tech equipped e-scooters in Milwaukee with plans to launch in Miami, Seattle and Santa Monica, as well. Last month, Bird was booted by the Santa Monica City Council in favor of Spin, Veo and Lyft and will have to remove all of its scooters from its own hometown by July. 

Seattle and Santa Monica, along with Boise, Idaho, will also be seeing some of Spin’s new tech in the form of the S-200, a three-wheeled adaptive sit-down scooter. The vehicle is built in tandem with mobility startup Tortoise, whose repositioning software allows remote operators to move vehicles off sidewalks and into proper parking spots, as well as rebalance them. 

#bird, #e-bikes, #e-scooters, #ford, #lime, #micromobility, #spin, #transportation

The Station: Rivian rolls towards an IPO and Quantumscape makes a big battery hire

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.

For my American readers, you might be traveling — perhaps for the first time in more than a year — because of the Memorial Day holiday. While Memorial Day is meant to honor members of the U.S. military who died while serving, the three-day weekend has become the unofficial kick off to summer. This year, those traveling by car, truck or SUV will be met by the most expensive Memorial Day weekend gas prices since 2014, according to AAA. The organization also estimates that 37 million Americans will travel by plane and automobile over the holiday — a 60% increase over the same period last year.

Be safe out on these busy roads, frens.

One story to highlight: Mark Harris dug into the contracts for the Las Vegas Loop System. He found that restrictions put in place by Nevada regulators are making it difficult for The Boring Company to meet contractual targets for its LVCC Loop, Elon Musk’s first underground transportation system. Shortly after publication, Steve Hill, president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), tweeted that a Loop test this week, with a few hundred participants, had demonstrated its planned 4,400 passenger per hour capacity, which could release $13 million in construction funds currently being held back. While this bodes well for TBC, the story lays out a number of other issues that could pose a challenge for the company. We will continue to dig into this story of tunnels and transport.


Now a request, dear reader. We’re a bit more than a week away from TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a one-day virtual event scheduled for June 9 that is bringing together some of the best and brightest minds in transportation, including Mate Rimac of Rimac Automobili, Pam Fletcher of vp of global innovation at GM, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, and investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital.

I’d love for you to join, and you can do that by clicking here and buying a ticket, which will also give you a months-free subscription to Extra Crunch and access to all the videos of the conference. But, if you can’t come, please reach out anyway and let me know if you have any questions or topics that you want addressed. I will be interviewing many of the folks coming to our virtual stage.

We just announced three more participants from automakers Hyundai, Ford and Toyota who will talk about their respective companies’ increasing interest and investment in robotics. Our three guests are: Max Bajracharya, formerly from Alphabet’s X and now vp of robotics at Toyota Research Institute, Ernestine Fu, director at Hyundai Motor Group who heads development at the new  New Horizons Studio and Mario Santillo, a technical expert at Ford who has been charged with helping lead the company’s efforts at a recently announced $75 million research facility at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

Micromobility rivals Bird and Lime have come out with news this week that they’re both marketing as sustainability initiatives. Let’s start with Bird.

Bird has unveiled its next-generation scooter, the Bird Three, that it will unveil in New York and Berlin this summer. It’s got a longer-range battery with 1kWh capacity and an improved diagnostic monitoring system to keep the battery lasting as long as possible. Bird says its better, smarter battery means it’s ultimately a more sustainable scooter because it has a longer life and needs to be charged a lot less.

Ideally, a better battery and better software will also help produce a longer-lasting vehicle so that Bird can cut down on depreciation and maintenance costs, which have really not helped the company in its push for profitability. Last week, Bird announced a SPAC merger with Switchback II. The regulatory filings that accompanied the announcement demonstrate just how difficult it is to turn a profit given the unit economics of shared scooters.

Lime is similarly positioning its updated subscription service, Lime Prime, as a sustainable initiative. With each new Prime member sign up, Lime promises to plant a tree through One Tree Planted. But more importantly, the subscription service helps the regular Lime rider perhaps save a bit of money. Members have access to waived unlock fees on any vehicle, and in markets with no start fees, the benefit will be 25% off the ride price. Additionally, riders can get free 30 minute reservations on any vehicle.

Two-wheel swag news

Zaiser Motors announced the launch of its Wefunder campaign to raise funds for development and production of its Electrocycle. It’s a good-lookin’ vehicle, charcoal-black with a design that breaks away from a super traditional gasoline-era style and looks more like something a small Batman might ride. All of the components are designed to be recyclable within the first 10 years of production, the company says. The Electrocycle has 300 miles of range, swappable batteries and is less than $25,000.

Meanwhile in scooter world, the Scotsman, a Silicon Valley-based electric scooter brand, has unveiled a scooter that’s 3D printed entirely in carbon fiber composite. And I don’t just mean some parts are composite. The whole frame, the handlebars, the stem and the baseboard are all made of this strong, sustainable, lightweight material. It also means the scooters are highly customizable, each frame printed depending on the owner’s height, weight, arm and leg lengths and riding position. At a starting price of $2,999, it’s not cheap, but that might be a signal from the industry that scooters are increasingly become viable transport options and not just toys. You can pre-order here.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

The march of IPOs appears to picking up pace. For instance, Full Truck Alliance, the Chinese digital freight platform known as Manbang Group, filed for an IPO. The filing didn’t specify the exact amount it was aiming to raise. Reuters, citing unnamed sources, reported that the company wants to raise up to $1.5 billion, which would give it a valuation of $20 billion.

Full Truck Alliance’s S-1 provides a number of interesting details, including the how much money can be captured by effectively connecting truckers with shippers. The company reported that about 20% of all China’s heavy-duty and medium-duty truckers fulfilled shipping orders on our platform in 2020. (More than 2.8 million truckers fulfilled shipping orders on its platform last year.) Full Truck Alliance said last year it facilitated 71.7 million fulfilled orders with a gross transaction value of RMB173.8 billion (US$26.6 billion).  The first quarter number show it is growing. In the first quarter, the company had  22.1 million fulfilled orders, a 170.2% increase from the same period.

Full Truck Alliance raised $3.6 billion in private funding, most recently last fall at an $11.7 billion valuation, from firms like SoftBank Vision Fund (22.2% pre-IPO stake), Sequoia Capital China (7.2%), Permira, Tencent, Hillhouse Capital, GGV Capital, Lightspeed China Partners and Baillie Gifford.

The IPO about six months since the company raised $1.7 billion in a funding round that included backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, Sequoia Capital China, Permira, Fidelity, Hillhouse Capital, GGV Capital, Lightspeed China Partners, Tencent and Jack Ma’s YF Capital. A look at the S-1 shows that the principal shareholders are Softbank with a 22.2% stake, followed by 8.9% held by Full Load Logistics, a limited liability company owned by Full Truck Alliance CEO Hui Zhang. Sequoia has a 7.2% stake and Master Quality Group Limited, another organization controlled by Zhang, hold 6.6% of shares.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

E2open Parent Holdings Inc. said it will acquire logistics execution platform BluJay Solution, Freightwaves reported. The deal could be valued at $1.7 billion, consisting of $760 million in cash and 72.4 million shares.

First Move Capital, the Boulder-based venture firm that has invested in used car marketplaces Frontier Auto Group and Vroom as well as mobility-as-a-service startup Via, has closed a new $150 million fund that will focus on the automotive and transportation sectors. Proceeds from the round will be exclusively allocated to new investments; seven have already been made, including into autonomous vehicle startup Gatik, cloud-based automotive retail platform Tekion and e-commerce startup Revolution Parts.

Hydra Energy received CAD$15 million ($12 million) from Just Business to expand beyond pilots and deliver hydrogen-powered trucking, the company announced. This funding is to support the further development of Hydra’s initial waste hydrogen capture plant in British Columbia, its fueling infrastructure and conversion kits. The Canadian company has raised CAD $22 million (USD $17.2 million) to date. One other update worth sharing, Hydra’s flagship hydrogen-as-a-service project, is scheduled to break ground later this year.

Miles, the German car-sharing service has received investment from Delivery Hero CFO Emmanuel Thomassin, HelloFresh CFO Christian Gärtner, Chargepoint CFO Rex Jackson as well as Norwegian top manager Stine Rolstad Brenna. Thomassin has joined the company’s advisory board. The company disclosed to TechCrunch that it generated 20 million euros ($24.39 million) of revenue in 2020, quadruple the amount from the previous year. The results helped the company achieve profitability in October 2020. Miles is now focused on expansion. In the first four months in 2021, the company launched electric vehicles and expanded its car fleet to Munich. Miles intends to grow beyond Germany and is currently examining the best markets to launch in.

MotoRefi raised another $45 million in a round led by Goldman Sachs just five months after investors poured $10 million into the fintech startup to help turbocharge its auto refinancing business. While the company didn’t give me specifics on its revenue — CEO Kevin Bennett cited a 7x growth year-over-year but didn’t provide the baseline — it did disclose it’s on track to issue $1 billion in loans by the end of the year. That’s a fivefold increase from the same period last year.

Smart Eye, the publicly traded Swedish company that supplies driver monitoring systems for a dozen automakers, acquired emotion-detection software startup Affectiva for $73.5 million in a cash-and-stock deal. The startup, which says it developed software that can detect and understand human emotion, spun out of MIT Media Lab in 2009. Since then, it has landed a number of development and proof of concept deals as well as raised capital, but it never quite reached the mass-scale production contracts.

That’s where Smart Eye comes in. Smart Eye, which has won 84 production contracts with 13 OEMs, including BMW and GM, is keen to combine with its own AI-based eye-tracking technology. The companies’ founders see an opportunity to expand beyond driver monitoring systems — tech that is often used in conjunction with advanced driver assistance systems to track and measure awareness — and into the rest of the vehicle. Together, the technology could help them break into the emerging “interior sensing” market, which can be used to monitor the entire cabin of a vehicle and deliver services in response to the occupant’s emotional state.

Tritium, a Brisbane-based developer and producer of direct current fast EV chargers, announced a merger agreement with a special purpose acquisition company Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corp. II. The deal is expected to value the company at $1.2 billion. The transaction is expected to generate gross proceeds of up to $403 million. Tritium will be listed under the ticker “DCFC.”

This particular SPAC deal is unusual in that it does not include private investment in public equity, or PIPE — a fundraising round that typically occurs at the time of the merger and injects more capital into the company. Tritium CEO Jane Hunter told us that the company didn’t need a PIPE because DCRN is a more than $400 million SPAC and its shareholder group agreed to a minimum cash closing of just $200 million, which significantly reduces redemption risk. “Also, our revenue has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 56% since 2016 as we expand our presence in major markets where we have a significant market share, such as the U.S. and Europe,” Hunter said. “This revenue growth helps to reduce our reliance upon new funds to implement our growth strategy.”

Wejo, the connected vehicle data startup backed by GM and Palantir, plans to go public through a merger with special purpose acquisition company Virtuoso Acquisition Corp. The agreement, announced in a regulator filing, will give the combined company an enterprise valuation of $800 million, which includes debt. There were earlier reports that the SPAC deal was imminent. The filing confirms the news and provides more detail.

The deal raises $330 million in proceeds for Wejo, including a $230 million cash contribution from Virtuoso and a $100 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE. Previous strategic investors Palantir and GM anchored the transaction, according to Wejo. The company did not disclose the amounts of those investments. Current shareholders will retain 64% ownership of the company, according to its investor deck.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Senate Republicans released their response to Joe Biden’s sweeping $2 trillion investment plan, which would earmark $174 billion for electric vehicle investments. Their proposal would shrink it down to $928 billion. And that $174B for EVs? That would be reduced to just $4 billion, under the GOP plan.

It seems that the main point of contention between the President and his GOP colleagues is the definition of the word ‘infrastructure.’ Republicans are sticking to a more traditional definition, so their counterproposal still contains plenty of money for things like roads, the water system, bridges and broadband.

Biden’s plan aimed to provide consumer tax incentives and incentives for EV chargers, incentives to boost domestic manufacturing and enough funds to install at least 500,000 public charging stations across the country by 2030. A memo obtained by The Hill suggests Biden intends to hold firm to his proposal, so expect further negotiations in the coming weeks.

The Senate Finance Committee on May 26 marked up the Clean Energy for America Act, an important step before it hits the Senate floor for a vote. Among other things, the bill would remove 200,000 unit cap on tax credits for consumers buying EVs — that means the tax credit could be used toward buying a Tesla, a manufacturer that hasn’t been eligible for the credit because they’ve sold over 200,000 cars in the United States.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) added an amendment to the bill that would create an additional $2,500 consumer credit for vehicles assembled in the U.S. and another $2,500 for vehicles assembled in a unionized facility. If it passes, the additions would bring the maximum consumer tax credit for EVs to $12,500 — no small sum! The credits would expire in 2025. “Electric vehicles are part of our transportation future,” Sen. Stabenow said. “The question is not when they will be built, it’s where they will be built: in Asia or America?”

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm sold her holdings in electric bus manufacturer Proterra after Republicans criticized her for a potential conflict of interest. The GOP’s complaint arose after Biden made a virtual visit to a Proterra factory in April. The sale provided Granholm with a net gain of $1.6 million, DOE told reporters.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

I hear and see things, but we’re not selfish. Let me share.

This week, “a little bird” is all about big employment moves and departures and how one hire is connected to a potentially massive IPO.

Let’s kick things off with Celina Mikolajczak, the now former vice president of battery technology at Panasonic Energy of North America. You might recall that Mikolajczak recently took a board seat at solid state battery company QuantumScape. Welp, she is now taking a job at the company as vice president of manufacturing engineering, beginning in July. She has resigned from the board in connection with accepting the offer. In her new role, Ms. Mikolajczak will lead the transition of the Company’s tools and manufacturing processes from research and development to production, QuantumScape said in a regularly filing.

Mikolajczak has a long history researching and developing better lithium-ion batteries. Her technical consulting practice at Exponent focused on lithium-ion cell and battery safety and quality. She then took a senior management position at Tesla that was focused on cell quality and materials engineering. During her time at Tesla, Mikolajczak developed the battery cells and packs for Tesla’s Model S, Model X, Model 3 and Roadster Refresh.

After leaving Tesla, Mikolajczak went on to serve as director of engineering focused on battery development for rideshare vehicles at Uber Technologies. And in 2019, she joined Panasonic Energy of North America, where she is vice president of battery technology. While at Panasonic, Mikolajczak led a team of more than 200 engineers and other technical staff to improve lithium-ion cell manufacturing and to bring the latest cell technologies to mass production for Tesla at the Gigafactory facility in Sparks, Nevada.

Speaking of Tesla … it looks like Scott Sims, director of engineering, left the company this month. His title doesn’t quite capture his role. Sims was the person leading the design and engineering for vehicle user interfaces, streaming, video games and mobile applications. Importantly, he was responsible for cloud computing as it related to the Tesla mobile app, a critical tool for any owner.

Finally, the big news on Friday (via Bloomberg) is that Rivian has selected underwriters for an initial public offering. The company could seek an eye-popping value of $70 billion. I have confirmed some (but not all) of Bloomberg’s reporting. Obviously big news that I’ll be watching and digging into. I had heard rumbling about a potential Rivian IPO, but Bloomberg put together the critical deets.

To me, the biggest indication that Rivian was getting ready to make a move was Ger Dwyer taking the vp of business finance position at the company, which he posted about on LinkedIn. You might recall, that I scooped the news a couple of weeks ago that Dwyer was leaving his post as CFO at Waymo. I noted at the time that Dwyer’s departure comes at a time when the demand for CFOs has rocketed alongside the continuous string of public offerings, including those done via mergers with special purpose acquisition companies.

Got tips? Send them my way by email or DM me over at Twitter.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Loads and loads of news. Let’s get to it.

Autonomous vehicles

Aurora published a blog post that gives a few new details on its testing and self-driving trucks strategy in Texas. The autonomous vehicle company said its first commercial pilots will move goods on several “middle-mile” routes in Texas. A safety driver will be behind the wheel of these self-driving trucks, which will drive autonomously between hubs. The terminal or hub system is one that other AV companies have adopted — at least for now. The idea is that loads can be consolidated, which would theoretically make operations more efficient. Aurora did add, that “for shippers and carriers with existing hubs and large volumes of freight, we expect to ultimately drive the complete route with no need for an intermediate consolidation point.”

One other item that jumped out to me: the company is expanding into a second office in Texas, suggesting that they’re scaling up, at least in terms of people.

Germany’s lower house of parliament adopted legislation that will allow driverless vehicles on public roads by 2022, laying out a path for companies to deploy robotaxis and delivery services in the country at scale. While autonomous testing is currently permitted in Germany, this would allow operations of driverless vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel. The bill still needs to pass through the upper chamber of parliament, or the Bundesrat. Included in the bill are possible initial applications for self-driving cars on German roads, such as public passenger transport, business and supply trips, logistics, company shuttles that handle employee traffic and trips between medical centers and retirement homes.

PAVE, which stands for Partners for Autonomous Vehicle Education, piloted a workshop with local governments earlier this month throughout Ohio. The educational workshop, which was done in partnership with Drive Ohio, wasn’t open to the public. But my Autonocast podcast co-host Ed Niedermeyer, who also happens to be director of communications for PAVE, gave me the inside scoop on what went down.

PAVE says it doesn’t do any kind of policy advocacy; instead the aim is to arm public policymakers with the facts they need to make good policy. This pilot helped PAVE lay a foundation for a curriculum that can be used elsewhere; that might seem trivial, but the complexity of issues around AVs makes these workshops with elected officials potentially powerful tool.

Ed told me that one of the main challenges was educating on potentially controversial topics, like policy and regulation, “where we have to get facts across without imparting biases.” He noted that the organization’s public sector and academic advisory councils were both helpful as neutral authorities. Finally, he said that one of the most practical education PAVE did was around the best practices that its members and advisors have developed in early AV deployments.

Kodiak Robotics, the U.S.-based self-driving truck startup, is partnering with South Korean conglomerate SK Inc. to explore the possibility of deploying its autonomous vehicle technology in Asia. While Kodiak co-founder and CEO Don Burnette couched the initial agreement as a first step toward a commercial enterprise in Asia, the reach of SK shouldn’t be discounted. SK Inc., a holding company of SK Group, has more than 120 operating companies, including ones connected to the logistics industry.

The ultimate aim of the partnership is to sell and distribute Kodiak’s self-driving technology in the region. Kodiak will examine how it can use SK’s products, components and technology for its autonomous system, including artificial intelligence microprocessors and advanced emergency braking systems. Both companies have also agreed to work together to provide fleet management services for customers in Asia.

Electric vehicles

Ford Motor, fresh off its splashy F-150 Lightning electric truck reveal, announced it is pushing its investment in EVs up to $30 billion by 2025, up from a previous spend of $22 billion by 2023. The company announced the fresh cashflow into its EV and battery development strategy, dubbed Ford+, during its investor day.

The company said it expects 40% of its global vehicle volume to be fully electric by 2030. Ford sold 6,614 Mustang Mach-Es in the U.S. in Q1, and since it unveiled its F-150 Lightning last week, the company says it has already amassed 70,000 customer reservations.

Hyundai held the North American reveal of the upcoming all-electric Ioniq 5 crossover. One new detail that I found interesting: Hyundai developed an in-car payment system that will debut in the Ioniq 5. The feature will offer drivers the ability to find and pay for EV charging, food and parking. When the vehicle comes to North America in fall 2021, the payments system will launch with Dominoes, ParkWhiz and Chargehub.

Lordstown Motors’ cash-rich SPAC dreams have turned out to be nothin’ more than wishes, as Alex Wilhelm and Aria Alamalhodaei reported. The upshot: a disappointing first-quarter earnings that was a pile-up of red-ink-stained negativity. The lowlights include higher-than-expected forecasted expenses, a need to raise more capital and lower-than-anticipated production of its Endurance vehicle this year — from around 2,200 vehicles to just 1,000. In short, the company is set to consume more cash than the street expected and is further from mass production of its first vehicle than promised.

Lucid Motors revealed the in-cabin tech of its upcoming electric luxury Air sedan. I spoke to Derek Jenkins, who heads up design at Lucid, and he provided a detailed tour of all the tech in the vehicle. It goes far beyond the curved 34-inch display and second touchscreen, which received much of the attention. The user experience, particularly the underlying software, matters in all cars. But it can be the death of an electric vehicle model if not done properly.

It appears Lucid is on the right track. I won’t really know until I’m able to test the Air. Let’s hope that is soon.

Rivian has delayed deliveries of the R1T Launch Edition, the limited edition release of its first series of “electric adventure vehicles,” by a month. Customers who preordered can now expect to start receiving their pickup trucks in July instead of June, with Launch Edition deliveries to be completed by spring 2022. The one-month delay was due to a combination of small issues, including delays on shipping containers, the ongoing chip shortage as well as ensuring the servicing piece is properly set up. It’s worth noting that Rivian told me that it has been largely unaffected by the chip shortage compared to the rest of the industry because its products don’t require as many as other vehicles on the market today.

Tesla had a number of news items this week, so I’ll just point to the most notable ones. Tesla has established a data center in China to carry out the “localization of data storage,” with plans to add more data facilities in the future, the company announced through its account on microblogging platform Weibo. All data generated by Tesla vehicles sold in mainland China will be kept domestically. The move was in response to new requirements drafted by the Chinese government to regulate how cameras- and sensors-enabled carmakers collect and utilize data. One of the requirements states that “personal or important data should be stored within the [Chinese] territory.”

Finally, two safety-related pieces of Tesla news that seem in opposition to each other.

First, Tesla started delivering Model 3 and Model Y vehicles without radar, fulfilling a vision of CEO Elon Musk to only use cameras combined with machine learning to support its advanced driver assistance system and other active safety features. The decision has prompted blowback though from the National Traffic Highway and Safety Administration, Consumer Reports and IIHS over safety concerns.

Meanwhile, Tesla finally — and after loud and frequent urging from industry and safety advocates, activated the in-cabin camera in new Model Y and Model 3 vehicles. The camera will be used as a driver monitoring system. Tesla has been criticized for not activating the driver monitoring system within its vehicles even as evidence mounted that owners were misusing the system. Owners have posted dozens of videos on YouTube and TikTok abusing its advanced driver assistance system known as Autopilot — some of whom have filmed themselves sitting in the backseat as the vehicle drives along the highway.

Other nugs (no not that kind)

Apex.AI hired Paul Balciunas as its CFO. Balciunas was the former CFO of Canoo. He also was an executive at Deutsche Bank, where he acted as a lead underwriter of the initial public offering for Tesla in 2010, and has since focused on auto tech and new mobility players.

Blyncsy, a Utah-based startup movement and data intelligence company launched an AI-powered technology called Payver, that will use crowdsourced video data to give transport agencies up-to-date information on which roads require maintenance and improvements. Blyncsy is offering this service to governments at a reduced cost and with no long-term commitment. Utah’s DOT will be the first to pilot the program beginning June 1, deploying Payver in the Salt Lake County region, which covers more than 350 road miles. Blyncsy will be announcing other pilots in different states over the next few weeks.

Scale AI hired Mark Valentine to head up its federal-focused division. Valentine comes with experience and connections. He was  a commander in the U.S. Air Force, senior military advisor to FEMA and most recently, GM of national security for Microsoft. He will lead Scale’s government partnership efforts.

Scale has also hired Michael Kratsios, the former CTO of the White House, as managing director and head of strategy. The company said he is focused on accelerating the development of AI across industries. Michael joined at the end of Q1.

#aurora, #automotive, #bird, #chris-urmson, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #gm, #hyundai, #joby-aviation, #karl-iagnemma, #lime, #lucid-motors, #mate-rimac, #micromobility, #panasonic, #quantumscape, #reid-hoffman, #rimac, #rivian, #scooters, #tesla, #transportation, #volkswagen

Next-gen Bird Three scooter comes with bigger battery and better software

Bird is rolling out a next-generation scooter with a bigger, longer-range battery and a diagnostic monitoring system to New York and Berlin this summer, as the micromobility startup seeks out ways to improve its margins and ultimately become profitable.

The Bird Three, which is already available in Tel Aviv, is designed to last longer and require less maintenance as well as improve comfort and safety for customers, according to the company. The launch comes just a week after Bird announced a merger with special-purpose acquisition company Switchback II. The regulatory filings that accompanied the announcement demonstrated just how difficult it is to turn a profit given the unit economics of shared scooters.

The cost of building and servicing vehicles is one of the biggest barriers to profitability, which explains why Bird has invested in developing a scooter with a longer-lasting vehicle and battery as well as the software needed to monitor the device’s health.

Bird writes its own proprietary operating system, called Bird OS, as well as its motor controller IoT system, according to Scott Rushforth, Bird’s chief vehicle officer. The self-diagnostics system allows the battery to communicate with the backend and internally within the connected vehicle network. That means if, for example, the machine gets too warm, it’ll send the server an alert and will also automatically correct itself by riding at a slower speed to keep cool.

“There’s tons of health monitoring and data that comes off the battery,” Rushforth told TechCrunch. “Every individual cell is monitored. There’s probably about 75 different diagnostics that we track within the battery system itself.”

Superpedestrian, which recently lost a bid for New York City’s first e-scooter pilot to Bird, Lime and Veo, has touted its self-diagnostics software and in-house written OS as one of its USPs for years. The company boasts that its LINK scooters, which are powered by its Vehicle Intelligent Safety (VIS) system, run 1,000 vehicle health checks every second a ride is taking place, checking for things like battery cell temperature imbalances, water penetration and brake issues.

Bird’s batteries are encased in “hermetically sealed, tamper-proof, industry-leading IP68-rated protection to keep [them] safe from dust, water and theft,” according to the company, which also claims the battery on the Bird Three is the largest in the industry at 1kWh capacity. Superpedestrian, a company that shares Bird’s aversion to swappable batteries, has just about the same battery capacity at .986kWh, according to a spokesperson for the company. Lime, Bird’s biggest competitor, has gone the small, swappable battery route, and thus its battery capacity is .460kWh, according to a Lime spokesperson.

Lime and other companies that use swappable batteries argue this strategy generates less emissions because the scooters can be serviced by gig economy workers on ebikes. Scooters have traditionally been rounded up, charged and then redistributed to public streets by gig economy workers driving around in gas-powered vans.

With its latest scooter, Bird is doubling down on the big, static battery strategy.

“The battery is so big that we don’t really need to charge it very often, and it can go 15,000 to 20,000 miles before it has any type of serviceability event,” said Rushforth, who noted in major markets, Bird’s scooters are being charged roughly once a week. “We spend less time charging, less time rebalancing, less time going out and having to do maintenance and chase these vehicles around, which means we’re actually using less cars than you would generally when you have swappable batteries and have to go out all the time to swap them.”

So far it’s not clear which strategy is the most eco-friendly, but a sustainable scooter isn’t all about the battery. Rushforth says the Bird Three is designed to last 24 to 36 months on the street.

“We’re trying to make the most green vehicle in the world, and to accomplish that, the system needs to be extremely durable,” he said. “As long as the vehicles last longer, we need less vehicles overall.”

Because Bird Three is built on the same platform as Bird Two, many of the parts are the same which makes it easier to reduce, reuse and recycle at the end of the vehicle’s life. Once a battery reaches the end of its life, Bird turns to partners like ITAP to be responsibly recycled.

Other updates on the Bird Three revolve around comfortability and safety, including a new braking system with front and rear brakes and an automatic emergency braking that detects a fault in the mechanical braking system and digitally stops the vehicle using the motor.

Rushforth also noted that the vehicle ergonomics feel sturdier, with a longer wheelbase, wider handlebars and antimicrobial grips. The Bird Three has a new headlight and taillight that are globally certified so they can be used in places like Germany where scooters have more stringent requirements. Just in time for Bird to expand outward into Europe.

#bird, #tc, #transportation

What has four wheels and loses money?

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is our Wednesday show, where we niche down to a single topic and go deep. This time Natasha and Alex corralled TechCrunch transportation editor Kirsten Korosec to talk to us about the endless parade of EV SPACs, and more. Before we get into the show notes, you can follow Equity on Twitter here.

And, because we are proud, we won a Webby! Our show! How cool is that? Thank you for love listening, hate listening, all of it. We are so thankful.

Ok, here’s what we talked about:

  • Why is every electric vehicle company going public via a SPAC, and why is there so much potential fraud in the space? Kirsten has some notes on the matter, but it boils down to money in both cases.
  • The Bird-SPAC deal in all its glory. You can read Alex and Kirsten’s dive into the Bird investor deck here. We had questions like why was the shared scooter model ever considered viable, and, how did the company improve its economics during a pandemic? The SPAC world never, ever disappoints.
  • Of course, we couldn’t resist talking about the scooter barrage of news from years ago and how things have changed since.
  • We end with her latest scoop, a series of exits at Waymo, and what that means for the future of the autonomous vehicle company. Plus, we didn’t get to make a joke about it in the show but let’s just say: Waymo has a waymore to go before it has driverless tech all over the streets.
  • And one more thing: Kirsten gives a look at some of the speakers at our upcoming mobility event. Snag tickets here, and subscribe to her newsletter, The Station, for all things mobility every week.

And that’s that! We are back with our regular weekly news rundown Friday morning. Chat you all then!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#bird, #canoo, #equity, #equity-podcast, #ev, #fundings-exits, #nikola, #spac, #startups, #tc

The Station: Exits at Waymo and Bird’s SPAC reveals its scooter-nomics

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.

Here’s a crypto-meets-transportation story for you before we move onto the rest of the news.

Just weeks after Tesla CEO Elon Musk and CFO Zach Kirkhorn said they believe in the longevity of bitcoin, the company has changed its stance. Musk, who has dubbed himself Technoking, tweeted that Tesla has suspended purchases of its electric vehicles with the cryptocurrency because of its concern about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal.

The tweet from Musk sent the price of bitcoin down. Ah, but wait, the crazy hijinks were just getting started. Musk’s tweet was clear that while bitcoin was out, other cryptocurrencies were in. “We are also looking at other cryptocurrencies that use <1% of Bitcoin’s energy/transaction,” the tweet said. Anyone who has followed Musk’s cheerleading of Dogecoin could have predicted what would come next. On May 13, Musk tweeted “Working with Doge devs to improve system transaction efficiency. Potentially promising.”

So there you have it. Perhaps, Dogecoin — which Musk jokingly called a hustle on SNL — will soon be Tesla’s crypto of choice.

My email inbox is always open. Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

The big micromobility news of the past week is that Bird, the shared electric scooter startup that’s scootin’ around in over 200 cities across three continents, is going public via a SPAC. Bird is merging with blank-check company Switchback II in an attempt to get cash fast and achieve profitability by 2023, confirming earlier reports from dot.LA after the website had gotten its hands on Bird’s investor pitch deck.

Fidelity Management & Research Company will lead the deal’s $160 million in private investment in public equity, with Apollo Investment Corp. and MidCap Financial Trust chucking in another $40 million in asset financing.

The SPAC deck reveals that Bird lost $387.5 million in 2019 and $208.2 million in 2020, even as it laid off 400 people in 2020. As a company with a huge cost structure and unprofitable revenue, which was made more unprofitable as the pandemic took its toll, Bird really needs this deal to work. Shifting business models may be just the thing. Buying up scooter fleets and deploying them around the world is simply too costly to work. Its move to go “franchise” and get other smaller companies to build fleets under its brand name during the pandemic generated 94% of its “sharing” revenue in the second half of 2020. So maybe there’s hope for the company after all. It’ll certainly need it if it intends to sustain its expansion into Europe in the coming years.

Speaking of expansion …

Singapore’s Neuron Mobility, the e-scooter sharing company that’s taken off in Australia and New Zealand, has announced plans to expand its reach deeper into the Commonwealth. Neuron recently won a contract to operate in Ottawa, so it’ll be heading to Canada in the coming month, with more cities in the country to come, according to the company. The company will give out free monthly passes to eligible Public Health and Emergency Service workers in the Canadian capital.

Meanwhile in Africa

Uganda-based, two-wheel ride-hailing platform SafeBoda announced that it had completed 1 million rides in the Nigerian city of Ibadan. For reference, boda-bodas in Uganda, or okadas in Nigeria, are local motorcycle taxis, so SafeBoda is disrupting this offline market while also leading ahead of the big guns like uberBODA and Bolt boda. Given the money and reputation behind Uber and Bolt, it’s somewhat surprising, and heartening, to see SafeBoda outstripping its competition. The company completes about 80,000 rides a day in Uganda, and Uber and Bolt only complete about 10,000 rides in the country.

New product roundup

Stromer’s new e-bike, the ST2 S-Pedelec comes at a steep price of $5,699, but it’s got some serious power behind it. With a 750-watt rear-wheel CYRO motor and a 618kWh battery, it can go up to 28 mph and up to 75 miles in range. If someone steals the bike, 3G and Bluetooth connection has got you covered with GPS localization and Smartlock. Comes in sport or comfort frames in royal blue or dark grey.

Razor scooter, those iconic early 2000s silver fold-up legends, has unveiled its new RipStik Rush, the electric RipStik 2.0. Sportier riders who like to flex their moves will love this scooter because the back end of the board allows you to fishtail, carve and drift like you would with a snowboard or wakeboard, according to the company. Razor will also be bringing their C25 e-scooter, which is more geared towards the daily commuter, to retail this summer.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

Last year, we saw nearly two dozen transportation startups go public via a merger with special purpose acquisition companies. Most of those were electric vehicle and lidar companies. This year, we are starting to see other transportation-related companies, including autonomous trucking startup TuSimple and now Plus AI.

Plus announced this week plans to merge with Hennessy Capital Investment Corp. V in a transaction with a post-combination valuation of $3.3 billion. Plus is expected to trade on the NYSE under the ticker symbol “PLAV.” The transaction is supported by $150 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, from funds and accounts managed by BlackRock and the D. E. Shaw Group.

The company said the capital provided by the public market will help it begin mass production of its so-called PlusDrive autonomous vehicle platform in 2021 with heavy-truck manufacturer FAW. Plus is also working with IVECO to jointly develop autonomous trucks that will be deployed across China, Europe and other geographies, the company said.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Clarios, the Wisconsin-based battery maker that was acquired by Brookfield Asset Management in 2019, filed confidentially for an IPO, Bloomberg reported. Brookfield is reportedly is seeking to have the portfolio company valued at more than $20 billion in an IPO.

ForU Worldwide, the Chinese freight-as-a-service transportation platform, filed for a $100 million IPO.

Innovusion, a five-year-old lidar company and a supplier to Chinese electric car upstart Nio, just landed a Series B funding round of $64 million. The new proceeds boost its total investment to more than $100 million. As TechCrunch’s Rita Liao notes, this is not a small amount, but the startup is in a race crowded with much bigger players that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, like Velodyne and Luminar. Temasek, the Singaporean government’s sovereign wealth fund, led Innovusion’s latest financing round. Other investors included Bertelsmann Asia Investment Fund, Joy Capital, Nio Capital, Eight Roads Ventures, and F-Prime Capital.

Telkomsel, a unit of Indonesia’s largest telecom operator Telkom, invested an additional $300 million in ride-hailing and payments firm Gojek. The investment comes just months after the network provider wrote a $150 million check to the Southeast Asian firm. The announcement comes amid Gojek working to seal a proposed merger with e-commerce platform Tokopedia. The $18 billion deal would result in a new entity called GoTo, according to media reports. Telkomsel’s investment today likely makes it one of GoTo’s top eight investors.

WeRide, the Chinese autonomous driving company, said it has achieved its Series C funding round that brings its post-money valuation to $3 billion. The round, which WeRide declined to provide details on beyond saying that it is in “the hundreds of millions,” comes  four months after securing Series B fundraising of $310 million. WeRide intends to use this funding round to invest in R&D and commercialization as it works toward the next-generation of Level 4 driving, a term that means a vehicle can drive without human intervention in some environments and conditions. The company is also using the funds to prepare to commercialize its technology.

Waymo: Executive exits and construction cones

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Waymo’s PR team most certainly had a busy week.

First up, is an article from me on the departure of Waymo’s chief financial officer Ger Dwyer and its head of automotive partnerships and corporate development Adam Frost — two longtime executives at the autonomous vehicle company.

The exits come amid some executive shuffling following CEO John Krafcik’s exit earlier this year. Krafcik announced in April that he was stepping down as CEO. Chief Safety Officer Deborah Hersman left in December and Tim Willis, who was head of manufacturing and global supply and general manager of Waymo’s Laser Bear lidar business, departed in February. Sherry House, who had been at Waymo since 2017 and was most recently treasurer and head of investor relations, left the company in April. She is now CFO at Lucid Motors.

As I noted in my article, some of the critical leaders, and the people directly below them, have remained. Tekedra Mawakana, who was COO, and Dmitri Dolgov, the CTO, are now co-CEOs of Waymo. Department heads directly below Mawakana and Dolgov are still at Waymo with a few exceptions, according to LinkedIn profiles. In March, both David Twohig, who was director of Future Automotive at Waymo, and Qi Hommes, who was once head of system safety, left. Hommes is now director of system safety engineering and analysis at Zoox, according to LinkedIn.

Changes at the top oftentimes cause a ripple effect of shuffling positions and even exits. Expect more in the weeks and months to come.

Meanwhile, a video was released by a regular user of the company’s Waymo One ride-hailing service, which uses a mix of driverless vehicles and those with a safety operator behind the wheel. This individual captured the entire trip, which devolved into a suboptimal situation when the vehicle entered into a work zone with construction cones. The vehicle became confused and essentially paralyzed. Waymo then stepped in remotely to send path planning instructions, but then sent incorrect guidance, which compounded the problem. Eventually, a roadside assistance team physically arrived and completed the trip.

The incident is a reminder of how much work still needs to be done in autonomous vehicles. It also illustrates just how many humans it takes to support one driverless vehicle on the road. Expect more incidents like this across the industry. On a side note, rival Cruise tweeted out a video showing its vehicle navigating a construction zone. I’m sure the timing was completely coincidental.

Policy cornerthe-station-delivery

I’m back with more policy news. This week, let’s kick things off with the U.S. Postal Service.

You might remember that in February, the U.S. Postal Service awarded a multi-billion dollar contract to OshKosh Corp. to replace between 50,000 to 165,000 aging trucks with a mix of diesel and electric powertrain delivery vehicles over the next 10 years. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy later specified to Congress that only around 10% of those new delivery trucks would be electric, a number that many in Washington and beyond argued was not high enough.

“The lack of commitment from the USPS to electrify its fleet directly contradicts the Biden administration’s goals and executive order to clean up pollution from the US government’s vehicles,” said Gina Coplon-Newfield, the director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign.

Now, House lawmakers are advancing a bill that would, in part, authorize an additional $8 billion for the U.S. Postal Service to switch to electric vehicles. The language adding the funds was tacked onto a bill to improve mailed ballot tracking. Given that President Joe Biden said back in January that he is committed to replacing the federal government’s fleet of around 650,000 vehicles with electric models, it was definitely more than a little odd that USPS picked a mixed diesel-electric bid less than one month later.

Meanwhile, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee vetoed a section of a bill that would have phased out the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles starting from model year 2030. This would have been the first time a state mandated all-electric auto sales via legislation, instead of executive order. Of states that have ICE phase outs in place — California and Massachusetts — both were established via orders signed by their respective governors and start in 2035.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

the station autonomous vehicles1

Autonomous vehicles

Volkswagen Group and Argo AI, which is supplying the company with a self-driving system that will allow it to commercially transport people and goods by 2025, provided an update this past week. Much of the briefing covered old ground. But there were a few new details, notably that testing will begin on European roads later this year, which builds on initial work completed at a test track that was established next to the Munich airport.

In-car tech

Ford Motor is beefing up its in-vehicle software offerings with built-in Alexa voice assistant and a wireless software update ecosystem. Ford’s over-the-air software updates, which it has branded Power-Up, will have the capability of updating “virtually all” of the computer modules in new Ford vehicles, not just the ones that focus on infotainment, the company said in a statement Thursday. Ford estimates that Power-Up will be able to update more than 80 computer modules on higher-end models. The automaker aims to manufacture 33 million vehicles equipped with this service and Alexa by 2028.

Delivery

The Information’s Paris Martineau spent five months investigating Amazon and the more than 50 serious crashes involving its semi-trucks used over the last three years.

Electric vehicles

Arrival, Canoo, Fisker, Lordstown Motors and Nikola Corp were flying high when they went public through mergers with special purpose acquisition companies. A Bloomberg report found these five companies were worth $60 billion when they first went public. But the last few months have delivered some harsh lessons. Three of the companies plunged to new lows this week as short-seller attacks, management turmoil and execution issues led investors to reconsider their prospects. They’ve lost more than $40 billion of market capitalization combined from their respective peaks.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom debuted a new proposal that earmarks $3.2 billion to boost EV infrastructure and adoption in the state. Under the proposal, over half of the $3.2 billion budget would go toward replacing 1,150 trucks, 1,000 transit buses and 1,000 school buses with electric models. Another $800 million would be put toward the state’s Clean Cars 4 All program, which aims to help lower-income drivers upgrade to a zero- or near-zero car, as well as further rebates or clean vehicles. The proposal earmarks $500 million toward infrastructure and $250 million would go toward manufacturing grants. Newsom did not specify what type of infrastructure programs would qualify; it’s likely those funds would go toward charging.

Fisker signed an agreement with Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that assembles iPhones, to co-develop and manufacture a new electric vehicle. Production on the car, which will be sold under the Fisker brand name in North America, Europe, China and India, will begin in the U.S. by the end of 2023.

Ford and BMW have each appointed members to the board of Solid Power, the solid state battery company that recently raised $130 million in a Series B round. Ford picked Ted Miller, manager of electrification subsystems and power supply research, and BMW chose Rainer Feurer, a senior vice president of corporate investments.

Ford also confirmed this week that its all-electric pickup truck will be named the F-150 Lightning, resurrecting a name that once donned the SVT F-150 in the 1990s. The company hasn’t said much about the powertrain, range or other specs. However, Ford President and CEO Jim Farley provided new details about the electric pickup that is coming to market next year. Most notably, it seems that the battery on the Ford F-150 Lightning will have the ability to power a home during an outage. Ford has touted the capability of its Hybrid F-150 to power a job site or tools, but this is the first time the company has said one of its vehicles could act as a backup generator to a home.

Harley-Davidson has spun out its LiveWire electric motorcycle as a standalone brand, complete with a new logo and brand identity. The company first unveiled the LiveWire electric motorcycle in 2018 with a listing price of $29,799, placing it on the higher end for motorcycles. It went into production the following year, with some bumps, including a brief halt to production due to a charging-related problem on one of the motorcycles. The “first LiveWire-branded motorcycle” will launch on July 8. Its public debut will come a day later at the International Motorcycle Show.

Hyundai Motor Group said it will invest $7.4 billion in the U.S. by 2025 — money that will be used to produce future electric vehicles, improve production facilities and develop what the automaker describes as smart mobility solutions. The company is also going to invest in improving electrification and hydrogen energy.

Subaru announced new details about its first-ever EV, which is set to hit the market in 2022. Subaru will call its first EV the Solterra, a fitting name for a brand synonymous with outdoor adventures and you know, the sun and the Earth. Subaru’s first full-fledged EV will be an SUV that ships with the manufacturer’s well-regarded all-wheel-drive capabilities. The Solterra is built on a new platform the company is developing in partnership with Toyota, which the latter company will use for its bZ4X crossover.

Ultium Cells LLC, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Chem, has executed an agreement with Canadian company Li-Cycle to recycle critical materials from the scrap produced from Ultium’s manufacturing processes from its Lordstown plant, starting later in 2021. The materials from the Lordstown location will be sent to Li-Cycle’s recycling location in Rochester, New York, to be processed and returned to the battery supply chain.

Hydrogen

Toyota tapped Japanese company ENEOS to help develop the hydrogen fuel cell system that will power its futuristic prototype city Woven City. The vision for the 175-acre city, where people will live and work amongst all of Toyota’s projects, including its autonomous e-Palette shuttles and robots, is to build a fully connected ecosystem powered by hydrogen fuel cells. ENEOS, a Japanese petroleum company that’s investing heavily into hydrogen, will help make Toyota’s “human-centered” city of the future. This new partnership not only signifies Toyota’s backing of hydrogen over electric, but it also could help Japan achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Studies

Global consulting firm AlixPartners forecasts that the ongoing semiconductor shortage will cost automakers globally $110 billion in lost revenues this year, up from the firm’s estimate in late January of $61 billion. In total, the firm is now forecasting that production of 3.9 million vehicles in total will be lost in 2021. The pandemic-induced shortage has been compounded by a fire in a key chip-making fabrication plant, severe weather in Texas and a drought in Taiwan, according to Mark Wakefield, global co-leader of the automotive and industrial practice at AlixPartners.

This problem isn’t going away either. There are up to 1,400 chips in a typical vehicle today. The rise in consumer electronics, which the majority of the chip supply goes towards, continues to put pressure on the automotive industry. There has always been a need for supply chain resiliency. But now, there is a broader push from the industry and governments to shore up the supply chain for the long term.

Nexar, a company that makes an AI-based dashcam app to monitor road safety, put 36 vehicles on the streets of Milan in February. While driving around, the company collected images from dash cams and AI to map on-street parking spots and documented 262,163 free street parking spots in a month. This interesting nugget of information is part of a wider study conducted by Nexar to better understand how curbsides are used.

Nexar said the free parking spot identification along with the creation of a crowd-sourced map of such data was accomplished using vision (and specifically car camera vision). One of the goals, the company said, was to demonstrate that vision data can replicate the human understanding of what a parking spot is.

Events and opportunities

There are a number of events coming up — and not just TC Sessions: Mobility 2021.

Ford Motor will hosts its Capital Markets Day on May 26. A webcast will open at 9:15 a.m. EDT and the event will start promptly at 9:30 a.m. EDT. After the presentation, CEO Jim Farley and CFO John Lawler along with other Ford executives host a question-and-answer session with the analyst community. You can check it out here.

The Petersen Automotive Museum is launching a new three-month incubator program that is focused on women-led businesses in the automotive sector. Each year, the museum will choose one California-based startup with five or fewer employees and provide them with hands-on mentorship, access to the Petersen network of sponsors and partners, and a $25,000 to $30,000 investment. Applications are reviewed by the program’s selection committee. Once accepted, the startup will work alongside the Petersen’s mentorship team to develop a custom program that addresses its business goals. Applications are being accepted now through July 31, 2021. Click here to apply.

Self Racing Cars is scheduled for October 16 to 17 2021 at Thunderhill Raceway. If you’re not familiar, the event is organized each year by Joshua Schachter. The event is an autonomous racing series that has a hobbyist-maker vibe. It’s as much about tinkering and troubleshooting as it is about going around the track.

While there are different teams, it is a decidedly collaborative environment. I’ll never forget the first year that Schachter hosted the event. It was here that I first met and befriended AlexRoy, now one of my co-hosts on the Autonocast podcast. It’s where George Hotz of Comma.ai finally got his vehicle around the track (Alex and I in the backseat) and won the competition. And it was where I was introduced to a young and then unknown guy named Austin Russell who was working in stealth on what we would all eventually learn was a lidar company called Luminar.

Check the website for more information and to sign up to participate. Right now, it looks like Nvidia is signed up and that list will likely grow in the coming months. And I hope to see you all there in the fall.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021! The June 9 event is right around the corner and I hope you’ll all be there. The agenda is packed for this one-day virtual event. You can check out the agenda here.

A few highlights:

We’ll have a panel on self-driving deliveries with Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO and CTO Ahti Heinla, Amy Jones Satrom, who heads operations at Nuro and Gatik co-founder and CTO Apeksha Kumavat. We’ll have one-on-one interviews with Pam Fletcher, who is leading innovation efforts at GM as well as Rimac Automobili founder and CEO Mate Rimac, Scale AI co-founder and CEO Alex Wang and Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

We’ll have investors, of course, including one panel with Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital. Then there’s investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose SPAC merged with Joby Aviation. Hoffman and Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt will come together to talk about what lies ahead. We also plan to bring together community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig to talk about equity, accessibility and shared mobility in cities.

One other panel we haven’t promoted yet will focus on China and robotaxis. The panel is bringing together Jennifer Li, vice president of finance at WeRide, Jewel Li who is COO of AutoX, and Huan Sun, who heads up Momenta Europe. These executives, from three leading Chinese robotaxi companies (that also have operations in Europe or the U.S.) will join us to provide insight into the unique challenges of developing and deploying the technology in China and how it compares to other countries.

And there is more. Have a question for any of these folks? Email me; I want to hear from you! And remember some of the panels will have a live question-and-answer period.

#alixpartners, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #autox, #bird, #electric-vehicles, #elon-musk, #harley-davidson, #hyundai, #scooter, #toyota, #transportation, #waymo, #weride

Bird Ride’s SPAC filing shows scooter-nomics just doesn’t fly

Scooter unicorn Bird Rides is going public, per an agreement to merge with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC. After rumors and reports circulated for months about an imminent deal, it has finally arrived.

First, a quick overview of the agreement and the players involved: Bird is merging with Switchback II at an implied valuation of $2.3 billion. Fidelity Management & Research Company will lead the deal’s $106 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE. Apollo Investment Corp. and MidCap Financial Trust provided an additional $40 million in asset financing. (Disclosure: Apollo is buying TechCrunch’s parent company.)

Historically — and based on what we’re seeing in this fantastical filing — Bird proved to be a simply awful business. Its results from 2019 and 2020 describe a company with a huge cost structure and unprofitable revenue, per filings. After posting negative gross profit in both of the most recent full-year periods, Bird’s initial model appears to have been defeated by the market.

What drove the company’s hugely unprofitable revenues and resulting net losses? Unit economics that were nearly comically destructive.

Some of the numbers Bird shared in its investor deck show a business that is growing, in terms of users and geographic footprint. Bird is in 200 cities globally and reports more than 95 million rides to date, and 3 million new riders added during the pandemic. The investor deck also touts year-round positive economics during the COVID-19 era. That all looks positive. But looking into the line-item financials, a different story emerges.

The scooter shop managed to convert a $135.7 million gross loss in 2019 to a smaller gross deficit of $23.5 million in 2020, but it did not manage to shake up its upside-down economics during its full fiscal 2020.

#bird, #ec-mobility-hardware, #fundings-exits, #lime, #micromobility, #scooters, #spac, #startups, #the-extra-crunch-daily, #transportation

Bird Rides to go public via SPAC, at an implied value of $2.3B

Bird Rides, the shared electric scooter startup that operates in more than 100 cities across 3 continents, said Wednesday it is going public by merging with special purpose acquisition company Switchback II with an implied valuation of $2.3 billion. The announcement confirms earlier reports, including one this week from dot.la, that Bird intended to go public via a SPAC.

Bird said it was able to raise $106 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, by institutional investor Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC, and others. Apollo Investment Corp. and MidCap Financial Trust provided an additional $40 million asset financing.

The transaction will enable the combined entity to retain net proceeds of up to $428 million of cash, according to Switchback, which brings $316 million cash-in-trust to the table. The announcement also provided new information about a previously undisclosed $208 million, which Bird raised privately as part of an April 2021 Senior Preferred Convertible equity offering led by Bracket Capital, Sequoia Capital and Valor Equity Partners.

When and how Bird would go public has been an item of speculation after Bloomberg reported last November that the company received “inbound interest” from SPACs.

Bird’s ride has been bumpy at times. In 2020, revenue dropped to $95 million, or 37% from the previous year. That year the company also laid off around 30% of its workforce – 406 people – for cost-saving reasons. The company may use this new access to cash to expand its European operations and pay off debt.

Most importantly, the new injection of cash may help the company finally achieve profitability. It’s a rarity amongst scooter startups, who face notoriously high overhead.

Special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, have become a popular route for going public amongst transportation startups. Already this year, scooter company Helbiz, which is based in Europe and the U.S., went public via SPAC in a merger with GreenVision Acquisition Corp. SPAC shell corporations allow companies to list on the NASDAQ without doing a traditional initial public offering.

#bird, #electric-scooters, #micromobility, #spac, #transportation

Bird reportedly prepares to go public via SPAC, aims for 2023 profitability

Micromobility startups are following the lead of EV companies going public via mergers with special purpose acquisition companies, a financial instrument that came back en vogue in 2020.

Bird Rides, the California-born micromobility company that now operates in more than 100 cities across the United States, Europe and the Middle East, plans to merge with Dallas-based blank-check company Switchback II Corporation, reports dot.LA. Switchback, the blank-check company merging with Bird, was formed in 2019 and led by former executives at oil and gas driller RSP Permian, Scott McNeill and Jim Mutrie.

Bird is the second scooter company this year to eschew the traditional IPO path and instead opt for the trendy SPAC tool. In February, Helbiz, a micromobilty startup in Europe and USA, also became a public company via SPAC in a merger with GreenVision Acquisition Corp. Many micromobility companies saw ridership fall during the pandemic last year, so we might expect to see more go the SPAC route in order have access to capital quickly, without the time or expense of a traditional IPO process. 

Bird has not responded to a request for comment. 

At the start of 2020, Bird was valued at $2.85 billion. It has had its struggles, particularly during the pandemic when revenue dropped to $95 million in 2020, a 37% decrease from the previous year, according to the pitch deck viewed by dot.LA. In 2020, Bird laid off 406 employees, or about 30% of its workforce, to cut costs.

The impending transaction valued the company at $2.3 billion below its valuation last year, according to the pitch deck. With this merger, Bird will have access to cash, which the company will likely use to pay off its debts and fund its European expansion in a push for profitability. Last month, the company announced intentions to spend $150 million to double its European operations by expanding to 50 new cities

The pitch deck reveals a number of other financial and ridership details. For instance, Bird expects to achieve profitability by 2023 after trimming this year’s losses to $96 million and next year’s to $28 million. It would also need to make $815 million in revenue in 2023 to be profitable, and the company expects to make $188 million this year. 

“The financials included in the slides reveal a company quickly burning through the $1.1 billion of cash it has raised since 2017, with a $226 million adjusted EBITA loss in 2019 and a $183 million loss last year,” writes dot.LA.

The pitch deck also shows ridership rebounds after the lockdown, with an 81% increase in topline revenue over the past month, but much of that could be attributed to springtime weather.

Bird is one of the three cities that recently won a permit to operate in New York City’s pilot e-scooter program in the Bronx, a win that might be contributing to the company’s future prospects, even as it lost bids for Paris, Chicago and San Francisco. As more cities are creating a favorable regulatory environment for shared micromobility, better hardware continues to emerge and the industry further consolidates, making high growth an achievable possibility for the company. 

Bloomberg first reported Bird’s conversations with Credit Suisse to go SPAC in November last year, and according to The Information, Bird has been raising $100 million in convertible debt from its existing investors, debt that could be converted into stock, but the company hasn’t confirmed the deal yet. 

#bird, #spac, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #tc, #transportation

How one naughty bird cheats with fancy feather structures

A Brazilian Tanager (Ramphocelus bresilius) with his cheating red feathers looking up at the sky.

Enlarge / A Brazilian Tanager (Ramphocelus bresilius) with his cheating red feathers looking up at the sky. (credit: Rogerio Peccioli | Getty)

Female tanager birds dig flamboyant males. So to build plumage that really pops with orange or red or yellow, a male has to eat fruits and absorb their carotenoids. The fancy feathers he produces then serve as an honest signal, in the evolutionary sense, as his ability to consume a lot of carotenoids shows that he’s fit. And the female wants to pass those genes along to her offspring, please and thank you.

Except biologists just discovered that male tanagers seem to be cheating. They’re not necessarily harvesting more carotenoids to gussy up their appearance. Instead, they’re changing the very structure of their feathers to play with light, thus modifying their color. Depending on the species—and the preferences of its females—they can make an ordinary red really glow, or make it more muted and plush. The males can even dial up the contrast of these color patches by making their surrounding feathers ultra-black with a structure that basically eats light.

“They’re making themselves essentially look brighter and more colorful without necessarily putting in these expensive pigments. So they’re essentially dishonestly signaling their color to females,” says Allison Shultz, curator of birds at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, who coauthored a recent paper describing the findings in the journal Scientific Reports.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#birb, #bird, #rainforest, #science, #tanagers

Bird, Lime and VeoRide selected for NYC e-scooter pilot

Lime, Bird and VeoRide have scored coveted permits to New York City’s first e-scooter pilot.

The New York City Department of Transportation, which originally released a request for proposals in October for the pilot that was meant to start in early March, made its selections public Wednesday. The three companies are expected to begin operations in the Bronx by early summer with 1,000 electric scooters each.

“After a competitive selection process, Bird, Lime and Veo unveil e-scooter models and pricing plans that will allow most rides for under $5,” said NYC DOT in a statement. “New bicycle lanes planned for pilot zone over the next two years will also enhance e-scooter mobility and safety.” 

Micromobility operators have been competing fiercely to win a dwindling number of city concessions. If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, says Frank Sinatra, and winning the Big Apple plays a massive role in determining which operators will survive as the rideshare industry consolidates under a few powerful players. 

Bird is already in over 100 cities around the United States, Europe and the Middle East, while Lime is ubiquitous with around 130 cities in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Australia under its belt. This win calcifies the clout the two already have in the industry. Chicago-based VeoRide is arguably the underdog of the trio with service around 20 U.S. cities, so getting the chance to operate in New York could be a game-changer for the already profitable company. This is especially true in a city that’s simultaneously still wary of coronavirus and eager to get out and catch up with friends and family this summer. 

“This e-scooter pilot program couldn’t come at a better time, as New York focuses on providing low-cost transportation options that allow residents to travel socially-distanced in the open air,” Lime CEO Wayne Ting said in a statement. “In welcoming a new mode of transportation to its streets, New York demonstrates its dedication to shepherding a sustainable recovery from COVID-19 — one that isn’t hampered by the crippling traffic congestion that depresses growth.”

Superpedestrian and Spin are among the companies that weren’t selected for participation in the program. Superpedestrian CEO Assaf Biderman said in a statement that the company was proud of the proposal it presented. “We know this is just a beginning, and there are more communities in every corner of the city that are calling out for new, safe and sustainable transportation options–something we can deliver,” he said.

Despite general fanfare, there may be a limit to how far operations can spread beyond the Bronx in the future. The first phase of the pilot covers neighborhoods in the East Bronx spanning from Eastchester to Van Nest; the second phase extends south to Soundview and east to Edgewater with another 4,000 to 6,000 scooters. The DOT said it chose these geographic boundaries to reach transit deserts that are unserved by existing bike share programs.

That last bit is important to note. Lyft-owned Citi Bike has a monopoly over shared micromobilty in NYC, with bike docks all over Manhattan and in parts of Brooklyn, Queens and the South Bronx. While 2018 legislation that allowed for the introduction of dockless e-scooters in NYC aims to “prioritize” hoods with no access to Citi Bike, the pilot zones were designed specifically to avoid overlap with Bronx neighborhoods targeted by the docked bike share’s expansion plans. 

What to expect from the e-scooter pilot in the Bronx

Aside from operating in alignment with NYC’s Vision Zero and equity goals, the DOT chose companies that would play ball with the city’s strong enforcement mechanisms, and that very much includes managing sidewalk clutter with dedicated parking corrals and fleet management software, a DOT spokesperson told TechCrunch. 

Lime intends to combine its corral and lock-to parking strategies for the first time in NYC to ensure its Gen 3 and Gen 4 scooters don’t become a bother to the community. It’ll also rely on its backend fleet management software and a “tidy crew” that will patrol the pilot area to rebalance scooters. 

“At high traffic locations like transit stations, riders must park in physical parking corrals enforced using Lime’s industry-leading geofence technology,” Phil Jones, Lime’s senior government relations director told TechCrunch. Lime uses a combination of onboard and cloud computing to determine the locations of geofences, so it’ll be interesting to see how this tech holds up in such a dense city, where even Google Maps often has trouble placing individuals. “Using our LimeLocks, riders must lock their e-scooters at bike racks or other places where traditional bike parking is permitted.”

Veo also plans to implement lock-to parking to keep scooters from falling over or blocking sidewalks.  

The pilot will cover an 18-square-mile area that’s home to 570,000 residents, 80% of whom are black or Latino. The median household income in the Bronx is $40,088 with a poverty rate of 26.2%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, so equity was top of mind for the city when evaluating operators. 

Bird already has an Access program that offers unlimited rides to low-income residents who are on government assistance for $5 a month, and even allows riders to pay with cash and unlock vehicles via SMS. Veo has an access program, but unclear what terms

Lime’s Access Program is similar, in that it offers 50% off rides to those on public assistance, but with NYC the program will see a rebrand as Lime Aid and expand to cover frontline healthcare workers, teachers, and people in the performing arts, non-profit and hospitality sectors — those who have been most affected by the pandemic. Lime also has agreements with employment offices like BronxWorks and the Center for Employment Opportunities to source employees for the pilot locally.

About 11% of Bronx residents under the age of 65 have a disability, so the DOT also evaluated operators based on accessibility. Victor Calise, commissioner of the mayor’s office for people with disabilities, was one of the people on the grading panel, so Lime made a point of focusing on accessibility for the disabled community. 

Lime recently launched a program in San Francisco that allows people with disabilities to order an accessible scooter delivered to their house with 24 hours advance notice, and the company intends to try out the same service in New York. In preparation for the Bronx pilot, Lime designed and built seven different vehicle types to meet various physical abilities, including a three-wheeled, sit-down vehicle for someone who has challenges balancing; a two-wheeled sit-down for someone who can’t stand for long periods of time; a tandem scooter of sorts so someone who has trouble seeing or is blind can have a partner with full vision with them; and a tricycle with a shopping basket. These vehicles are available on demand and will be delivered directly to users upon request. 

“We didn’t want to just think what might a disabled person want, but to actually go to the New York disabled community and learn from them,” said Jones, noting that Lime worked with New York’s Center for Independence of the Disabled, as well as other advocacy groups, prior to submitting its bid. “There’s a vocal and vibrant community here, and we are not just addressing their concerns around parking on the street, but how they can actually use our devices so we can provide a meaningful service to them.”

Veo will offer its stand-up Astro e-scooter and its futuristic-looking Cosmo seated e-scooter because seated rides are more accessible for many, especially those taking longer trips. The company has also stated that it’s committed to ADA compliance and will make electric-powered attachments that allow private non-motorized wheelchairs to operate as motorized devices available upon request.  

In terms of reducing traffic congestion and air pollution, Veo also touts its waterproof, durable, swappable batteries, which don’t require a gas-guzzling van to replace batteries but which can be done via cargo bike or even the Cosmo. Lime also has swappable batteries, but according to a November blog post, Bird has still not implemented this technology in full. 

To enhance safety, Bird recently launched Beginner Mode as a new feature built for the Bird Two alongside autonomous emergency braking and skid detection. This gives new riders a gentle acceleration option so they can gradually work their way up to full speed.  

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