The Station: Lyft, Uber take action in Texas, Van Moof charges up with capital, an eVTOL SPAC deal gets knocked

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 readers: Welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.

Before you jump into the transportation news of the week, a bit of TechCrunch company news!

Private equity firm Apollo Global Management completed its acquisition of Yahoo (formerly known as Verizon Media Group, itself formerly known as Oath) from Verizon. The deal is worth $5 billion, with $4.25 billion in cash, plus preferred interests of $750 million. Verizon will be retaining 10% of the newly rebranded company. The group, aside from Yahoo properties like Mail, Sports and Finance, includes TechCrunch, AOL, Engadget and interactive media brand, RYOT. All told, the umbrella brand encompasses around 900 million monthly active users globally and is currently the third-largest internet property, per Apollo’s figures.

Looking ahead: be on the lookout for automotive and tech news coming out of IAA Mobility in Munich this week. A bit of news that broke Sunday included Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles and autonomous vehicle technology company Argo AI unveiling the first version of the ID Buzz AD. Mercedes also had a busy day in the world of EVs.

As always, you can email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. You also can send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

You might have noticed that the micromobbin’ section wasn’t featured in last week’s newsletter. Well, Rebecca Bellan is making up for that with an extra long write up this week. Take it away Rebecca.

Since Auckland, New Zealand is back in a massive lockdown, the highlight of my week has been getting to write about and, and thus relive, my test of the electric utility bike built by Kiwi company Ubco. If any other electric micro-vehicle companies want to send me a tester and brighten my day, I’m always open.

Tl;dr: the Ubco bike looks like a dirt bike and rides like a moped and absolutely shreds. Pros: Smooth ride, good battery life and can carry a lot of weight and accessories. Cons: A bit on the pricey side, regenerative brakes think they know what’s best for me when I’m speeding downhill and a touchy keyfob.

Last-mile deliveries

If you’re one of those smart lazy people who orders meal kits through the likes of HelloFresh or Blue Apron, you’ve probably interacted with AxleHire without knowing it. That’s about to change.

The last-mile logistics provider announced this week that it would be expanding two pilot programs to bring cool tech to the delivery scene. Over the past year or so, the company’s been partnering with URB-E and using its network of collapsible containers strapped onto e-bikes to make deliveries in NYC, as well as Tortoise’s remotely controlled adorable delivery bots in LA. Now, those programs, which helped AxleHire reduce emissions and beat traffic, are going national.

An Indian empire arises

Ola Electric, the electric scooter manufacturing arm of ride-hailing giant Ola, is in talks to raise between $250 million to $500 million in new financing as it looks to scale its business in the South Asian market.

Falcon Edge Capital, which is potentially leading the round, values the company between $2.75 billion and $3.5 billion, which is up $1 billion from its previous 2019 raise. Side note: Ola, the initial parent firm of Ola Electric, is currently looking to file for an initial public offering.

Big box bike sales

Best Buy has a fresh lineup of electric vehicles that are available online now and coming to select stores in October, including many we’ve written about here, like the Unagi scooter and the new Bird bike. Other top names include Segway-Ninebot, SUPER73 and SWFT.

Speaking of new swag, VAAST Bikes has just revealed the E/1, the latest in the company’s sustainable bike range. The urban e-bike boasts a top notch suspension system that separates pedaling from suspension movement for a more comfortable ride, no matter how much cargo you’re packing. A step-through frame provides a low center of gravity, making it an easy enough bike to mount for riders of all ages and shapes and sizes. The E/1 will be available to purchase in the U.S., U.K. and European markets starting October, and it costs anywhere from $7,499 to $9,999.

Foldable e-bike maker Fiido has raised over $1 million on Indiegogo to fund the production and delivery of its new Fiido X. It’s got a sweet-looking minimalist design with a light and sturdy body, as well as improved pedal-assist and cycling control. Fiido says this bike is the world’s first folding e-bike with a built-in seat pole that transmits battery power. It’s got a 417.6Wh ternary lithium battery, which means when it’s in “moped mode” the range is over 130 kilometers, or around 81 miles. Not bad at all. Price is anywhere from $1,098 to $1,601 at the moment.

Swedish electric motorbike manufacturer Cake also recently released a new super lightweight e-moped that’s built for city utility riding, but can probably handle some off-road fun. The Makka weighs about 132 pounds and comes in two forms: The Makka Range, at $3,500, which is available only in Europe, has a lower maximum speed of 15 miles per hour and a range of up to 35 miles. The Makka Flex, which is available in Europe and the U.S., costs $3,800 and can hit top speeds of 28 miles per hour. The range of this vehicle is slightly less, at 30 miles.

National Drive Electric Week (sans cars)

This is the first National Drive Electric Week that has nothing to do with cars! Fabulous. At this free, two-part expert webinar, a range of experts will talk about how to get moving on two e-wheels and discuss whether or not cars are overrated (they are). Find out how policymakers and advocates are thinking about how we can get electric micromobility and public transit to dominate the roads, rather than cars, even electric ones. The event takes place Saturday, September 25 from 11am to 1pm PST on Zoom. You can register here.

Van Moof’s big raise

VanMoof, the Amsterdam-based startup, raised a $128 million Series C funding round, fund it plans to use in its bid to become the world’s leading e-bike brand. It’s tactic, scale faster than the rest.

Asia-based private equity firm Hillhouse Investment led the round, with Gillian Tans, the former CEO of Booking.com, also participating. Some existing investors also put some more money on the table, such as Norwest Venture Partners, Felix Capital, Balderton Capital and TriplePoint Capital.

The Series C represents a big jump compared to the company’s Series B. Last year, VanMoof raised a $40 million Series B. The startup has raised $182 million in total.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

This week, I want to focus on one deal that appears to be at risk.

Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., an influential shareholder adviser, issued a report this week recommending that investors in Ken Moelis’s Atlas Crest Investment Corp. should vote against a merger with Archer Aviation. The adviser said it would be better for investors if they redeemed their holdings in the blank-check company for cash.

If investors take that advice, it could derail the proposed merger between Atlas Crest and Archer, a startup that is developing vertical take-off and landing electric aircraft. ISS argues that Archer’s legal battle with Wisk Aero puts the company at risk. The firm also points to the falling valuation of the combined company.

As Bloomberg noted this week, ISS has targeted other SPAC deals involving eVTOL companies. ISS opposed the merger between Reinvent Technology Partners and Joby Aviation. Shareholders ignored ISS and vote to approve the merger. ISS also advised against investing in Qell Acquisition Corp.’s merger with Lililum GmbH. That deal is still pending.

While ISS seems to have a general distaste for eVTOL SPACs, the Archer deal is particularly sticky due to its current legal wrangling with Wisk Aero. For those who haven’t been following: Wisk Aero, the air mobility company born out of a joint venture between Kitty Hawk and Boeing, filed a lawsuit in April against Archer Aviation alleging patent infringement and trade secret misappropriation.

Archer didn’t scuttle into a corner. The company countersued in a lawsuit seeking $1 billion in damages from Wisk Aero.

Investors won’t be able to take the wait-and-see approach. The vote to approve the SPAC merger will be held long before this legal fight is resolved.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Carsome Group, the Malaysian-based online marketplace for buying and selling used cars, raised $170 million from investors, including from semiconductor maker MediaTek, investment company Catcha Group and Malaysian government fund Penjana Kapital, Forbes reported. The company’s post-funding valuation is $1.3 billion.

Cox Automotive acquired Oklahoma City-based Spiers New Technologies (SNT), a business that provides repair, remanufacturing, refurbishing and repurposing services for EV battery packs. The two companies did not disclose the terms of the deal.

Foretellix, a company that has developed a platform to verify and validate automated driving systems, raised $32 million in a Series B funding round led by MoreTech Ventures, with participation from several strategic investors, including Volvo Group, Nationwide, NI and Japan-Israel Ventures. Previous investors 83North Ventures, Jump Capital, OurCrowd and NextGear also participated. The company, founded in 2018, has raised more than $50 million to date.

Gatik AI, an autonomous vehicle startup focused on middle-mile logistics, announced it’s expanding into Texas — its fourth market — with a fresh bundle of capital. Gatik said it has raised $85 million in a Series B round led by new investor Koch Disruptive Technologies, the venture arm of Koch Industries. Existing investors Innovation Endeavours, Wittington Ventures, FM Capital, Dynamo Ventures, Trucks VC, Intact Ventures and others also participated. Gatik has raised $114.5 million to date.

HAAS Alert, a SaaS company that provides real-time automotive collision prevention for public safety and roadway fleets, raised $5 million in a seed funding round led by R^2 and Blu Ventures and joined by TechNexus, Stacked Capital, Urban Us, Techstars, Ride Ventures and Gramercy Fund. The company says it will use the funds to scale sales and outreach efforts and prioritize R&D with vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) technology partnerships.

Ideanomics, a fintech and electric mobility firm based in New York, acquired commercial electric vehicle manufacturer Via Motors in an all-stock deal valued at $450 million.

Iconiq Motors, a Chinese electric vehicle firm, is considering going public in the U.S. through a merger with a blank-check company, Bloomberg reported. The startup is working with an adviser on a potential deal that could value the combined company at about $4 billion, according to one source cited by the media outlet.

Kevala, the startup that collects and analyzes energy grid infrastructure data for utility companies, renewable energy providers, EV charging companies, regulators and other energy industry stakeholders, raised $21 million in a Series A round. The company says it will use the funds to grow its team from 60 employees to around 100 by the end of 2021 and increase the deployment of its grid analytics tools.

Sunday, an insurtech startup based in Bangkok, raised a $45 million in a Series B round that included investment from Tencent, SCB 10X, Vertex Growth, Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia & India, Quona Capital, Aflac Ventures and Z Venture Capital. The company says the round was oversubscribed, and that it doubled its revenue growth in 2020.

Yandex, the Russian internet giant that also operates a ride-haling company, acquired Uber’s stake in its Self-Driving Group (SDG), as well as Uber’s indirect interest in Yandex.Eats, Yandex.Lavka and Yandex.Delivery. The total cost of the deal came to $1 billion, giving the Russian company 100% ownership over all four businesses.

Zeekr, the electric vehicle brand by Geely, raised $500 million in its first external funding from a list of investors, including Intel Capital, battery maker CATL and online entertainment firm Bilibili. The round puts Zeekr’s valuation at aboout $9 billion, Reuters reported.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Welcome back to policy corner! Let’s talk safety. ​​Traffic deaths spiked in the first quarter of this year, according to preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. The agency estimated that there was a 10 percent increase in fatalities from previous projections, finding that 8,730 people died in motor traffic accidents, up from the 7,900 projected. Oddly, deaths spiked even though there was an overall decrease in the number of people on the road.

“We must address the tragic loss of life we saw on the roads in 2020 by taking a transformational and collaborative approach to safety,” NHTSA’s acting administrator, Steven Cliff, said in a statement. “Everyone — including those who design, operate, build and use the road system — shares responsibility for road safety.”

NHTSA is arguably starting to come up against some of the greatest challenges in the agency’s history, as technological development has brought about a greater degree of driving autonomy and driver assistance systems.

The forthcoming investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot could be a watershed moment for ADAS safety standards. If you aren’t caught up: NHTSA opened an investigation into 11 instances of a Tesla crashing into a parked emergency vehicle, and just added another crash to its investigation earlier this week. In an 11-page letter to the electric vehicle maker, NHTSA gave the company until October 22 to provide extensive data on any hardware and software related to Tesla’s Level 2 capabilities (including Autopilot).

The probe comes as more and more groups — including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, as well as the National Traffic Safety Board — call on NHTSA to exercise greater authority over regulating ADAS systems. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this investigation as it unfolds in the coming months.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable news and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Motional revealed the first images of its planned robotaxi, a Hyundai all-electric Ioniq 5 SUV that will be the centerpiece of a driverless ride-hailing service the company wants customers to be able to access starting in 2023 through the Lyft app.

The purpose-built vehicle, which will be assembled by Hyundai, is integrated with Motional’s autonomous vehicle technology, including a suite of more than 30 sensors including lidar, radar and cameras that can be seen throughout the interior and exterior. That sensing system provides 360 degrees of vision, and the ability to see up to 300 meters away, according to Motional.

Electric vehicles

ElectraMeccanica Vehicles Corp. unveiled a “cargo” version of its flagship three-wheeled, single-occupant, all-electric SOLO at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in California.

Power Global, a two-year-old startup, wants to disrupt the auto rickshaw market by offering a retrofit kit for diesel-powered vehicles and swappable battery pack to transition the more common lead-acid batteries to lithium-ion.

Rivian announced that the first edition version of its all-electric R1T pickup truck has an official EPA range of 314 miles, while its R1T SUV comes in a skosh higher at 316 miles.

Siemens said it will expand its U.S. manufacturing operations to support electric vehicle infrastructure. Specifically, the company plans to open a third facility to its VersiCharge Level 2 AC series product line of commercial and residential EV chargers. The additional facility, which is expected to come online in early 2022, will allow Siemens to manufacture more than 1 million electric vehicle chargers for the United States over the next four years.

TechCrunch editor Mike Butcher digs into YASA, the British electric motor startup that Mercedes-Benz acquired back in July The company, founded in 2009 after spinning out of Oxford University, developed an ‘axial-flux’ motor. YASA will now develop ultra-high-performance electric motors for Mercedes-Benz’s AMG.EA electric-only platform.

Wallbox, an electric vehicle charging company, has selected Arlington, Texas as the location of its first U.S. manufacturing facility. Production at the 130,000-square-foot plant is expected to start as early as June 2022. Production lines for its AC chargers lines, DC bidirectional charger, and DC fast charger for public use, are anticipated to follow in the first half of 2023. Wallbox said it expects to manufacture a total of 290,000 units annually in this facility by 2027 and reach its full capacity of 500,000 units by 2030.

Gig economy

DoorDash workers in California protested outside of the home of DoorDash CEO Tony Xu in response to a recent California superior court judge ruling calling 2020’s Proposition 22 unconstitutional. Prop 22, which was passed last November in California, would allow app-based companies like DoorDash, Uber and Lyft to continue classifying workers as independent contractors rather than employees.

The group of about 50 DoorDash workers who are affiliated with advocacy groups We Drive Progress and Gig Workers Rising  demanded that DoorDash provide transparency for tips and 120% of minimum wage or around $17 per hour, stop unfair deactivations and provide free personal protective equipment, as well as adequate pay for car and equipment sanitizing.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey gave a coalition of app-based service providers that includes Uber and Lyft the go-ahead to start collecting signatures needed to put a proposed ballot measure before voters that would define drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. Backers of the initiative, which is essentially a MA version of Proposition 22, would need to gather tens of thousands of signatures for the measure to make it to the November 2022 ballot.

Uber and Lyft separately announced plans to cover the legal fees of drivers using their ride-hailing apps who are sued under Texas’s new abortion law.

The new law bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is typically around six weeks, and gives any individual the right to sue anyone who aids or abets an abortion. That means ride-hailing app drivers, who might transport a woman to a clinic, can be sued.

Uber CEO Dara Khoswarshari and Lyft CEO Logan Green both took to Twitter express their opposition to the new law and announce their support to drivers.

“TX SB8 threatens to punish drivers for getting people where they need to go– especially women exercising their right to choose,” Green wrote on Twitter. “@Lyft has created a Driver Legal Defense Fund to cover 100% of legal fees for drivers sued under SB8 while driving on our platform.

Khosrowshahi retweeted Green’s tweet and made the same commitment. “Right on @logangreen – drivers shouldn’t be put at risk for getting people where they want to go. Team @Uber is in too and will cover legal fees in the same way. Thanks for the push.”

Green and Khosrowshahi are among the few CEOs (a list that includes Austin-based Bumble and Dallas-based Match Group) with operations in Texas that have come out in strong opposition to law.

In-car tech

GM announced it will idle nearly all its assembly plants in North America due to the ongoing semiconductor chip shortage. The automaker is making a few strategic exceptions. Production of its profitable full-size SUVs will continue this week at its Arlington Assembly plant in Texas. The Flint Assembly facility, where it makes heavy-duty GMC and Chevy pickup trucks and Bowling Green Assembly in Kentucky, where it makes the Corvette, will also continue.

Misc. stuff

BMW Group has committed to a 50% reduction from 2019 levels in global carbon dioxide emissions during the use-phase of its vehicles by 2030, as well as a 40% reduction in emissions during the life cycle of the vehicle. These goals, including a plan to focus on the principles of a circular economy to achieve a more sustainable vehicle life cycle, will manifest in the company’s Neue Klasse platform, which should be available by 2025.

Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and husband, Chasten, announced they are parents to twins.

Buttigieg tweeted: “Chasten and I are beyond thankful for all the kind wishes since first sharing the news that we’re becoming parents. We are delighted to welcome Penelope Rose and Joseph August Buttigieg to our family.”

Nikola Corp. reached a new agreement with Bosch for its hydrogen fuel cell modules. The modules will be used to power two of Nikola’s hydrogen-fueled semi-trucks, the short-haul Nikola Tre and Nikola Two sleeper. Bosch invested at least $100 million in the hydrogen truck startup in 2019 but reduced its shares in the company the following year. Bosch also said last year it would supply fuel cells for Nikola’s European operations.

#automotive, #bmw-group, #dara-khoswarshari, #ebikes, #electric-vehicles, #gm, #lyft, #mercedes-benz, #nikola-corp, #pete-buttigieg, #ride-hailing, #rivian, #the-station, #transportation, #uber, #volkswagen, #vw-group, #yandex

BMW Group’s Neue Klasse lineup to focus on circular economy to achieve reduction in CO2 emissions

The BMW Group announced Thursday its intentions to commit to a 50% reduction from 2019 levels in global carbon dioxide emissions during the use-phase of its vehicles by 2030, as well as a 40% reduction in emissions during the life cycle of the vehicle. These goals, including a plan to focus on the principles of a circular economy to achieve a more sustainable vehicle life cycle, will manifest in the company’s Neue Klasse platform, which should be available by 2025.

Announced in March, the BMW “New Class” is a reboot of a line of sedans and coupes the German automaker produced from 1962-1977, a line that established BMW’s identity as a sports car manufacturer. The new line will feature “a completely redefined IT and software architecture, a new generation of high-performance electric drivetrains and batteries and a radically new approach to sustainability across the entire vehicle life cycle,” according to the company.

“With the Neue Klasse we are significantly sharpening our commitment and also committing ourselves to a clear course for achieving the 1.5 degree target,” said Oliver Zipse, chairman of the board of management of BMW AG, in a statement. “How companies are dealing with CO2 emissions has become a major factor when it comes to judging corporate action. The decisive factor in the fight against global warming is how strongly we can improve the carbon footprint of vehicles over their entire life span. This is why we are setting ourselves transparent and ambitious goals for the substantial reduction of CO2 emissions; these are validated by the Science Based Targets Initiative and will deliver an effective and measurable contribution.”

BMW says the utilization phase of its vehicles accounts for 70% of the group’s total CO2 footprint, which makes sense given the fact that most of BMW’s car sales are still ICE vehicles. In the first half of 2021, about 11.44% of BMW’s total sales volume were either electric or plug-in hybrid, according to its 2021 half-year earnings report. The company has expressed a goal of selling 1 million plug-in units, including hybrids, by the end of 2021. As of Q2, it’s already at around 850,000, but in order to reach its goal of halving emissions during the utilization phase, BMW will need to seriously up its sales of low or zero-emissions vehicles. BMW already has its i3 compact EV out and plans to launch two long-range models, the i4 sedan and iX SUV, later this year, with plans for more in 2022. But unlike GM or Volvo, the automaker has not yet announced plans to kill its ICE vehicles, nor has it begun to sell a full line of vehicles designed from the ground up to run on batteries.

This announcement comes just a couple of months after BMW, along with other German automakers Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche, acknowledged its involvement in colluding on an emissions cartel since the 1990s. The automakers collectively hid technology that would have been able to reduce harmful emissions beyond what was legally required under EU emissions standards. The EU fined BMW $442 million, a slap on the wrist given BMW’s second-quarter profits of close to $6 billion.

In addition, the EU’s “Fit for 55” energy and climate package, which was released last month, upgraded the overall carbon emissions reductions goal from 40% to 55% by 2030, which means automakers need to pick up the pace of electrification, and BMW knows that. Other proposals reportedly under discussion in the European Commission involve a 60% emissions reduction by 2030, followed by 100% cut by 2035, which would make it near impossible to sell ICE vehicles by that time.

BMW says its Neue Klasse will further the momentum to get EVs to market. The automaker aims to have 10 million all-electric cars on the road over the next decade, with at least half of all BMW Group sales being all-electric and the Mini brand offering exclusively all-electric from 2030. As part of its circular economy focus, BMW also intends to incorporate an increase of use of secondary materials and promote a better framework for establishing a market for secondary materials with the Neue Klasse. The company says it aims to raise the percentage of secondary materials it uses from its current rate of 30% to 50%, but didn’t specify by when.

BMW says its use of secondary nickel in the iX battery, for example, is already 50%, with the battery housing containing up to 30% secondary aluminum, and the goal is to improve those numbers. BMW is also piloting a project with BASF and the ALBA Group to increase the recycling of plastics used in cars.

As part of what BMW is calling a comprehensive recycling system, “the ALBA Group analyses end-of-life BMW Group vehicles to establish whether a car-to-car reuse of the plastic is possible,” according to a statement by the company. “In a second step, BASF assesses whether chemical recycling of the pre-sorted waste can be used in order to obtain pyrolysis oil. This can then be used as a basis for new products made of plastic. In the future, a new door trim or other components could be manufactured from a used instrument panel, for example.”

To ensure an easier recycling process, BMW is also incorporating early-stage design of vehicles. Materials must be put together in a way that’s easy to disassemble at the end of life and then reuse. The automaker says it will increasingly build the interior of a car with monomaterials that can be transferred back into usable material.

“For example, the onboard wiring systems must be easy to remove, in order to avoid mixing steel with copper from the cable harnesses in the vehicles,” the company said in a statement. “If this mixing does take place, the secondary steel loses its essential material properties and therefore no longer meets the high safety requirements of the automotive industry.”

A circular economy also involves using higher-quality vehicles, which will reduce the overall number of materials used because those parts can be recycled or fixed more easily.

With this announcement, BMW promises transparency when it comes to the life cycle of its vehicles. The company does indeed publish life cycle assessments (LCAs), as does almost every other major car manufacturer, but there’s no standard in the industry yet, which means it’s sometimes difficult to compare different vehicles. Looking at the overall life cycle of a vehicle will be increasingly important if we actually want to cut emissions goals. The emissions that come from the supply chains and manufacturing processes to obtain all the materials needed to even build batteries and vehicles is a body of research that’s only just coming to light, and what that light reveals is the possibility that these moves could even increase emissions in the aggregate.

“Embodied emissions can be devilishly difficult to accurately quantify, and nowhere are there more complexities and uncertainties than with EVs,” writes Mark Mills, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, in a recent TechCrunch article about what it takes to calculate the real carbon cost of EVs. “While an EV self-evidently emits nothing while driving, about 80% of its total lifetime emissions arise from the combination of the embodied energy in fabricating the battery and then in ‘fabricating’ electricity to power the vehicle. The remaining comes from manufacturing the non-fuel parts of the car. That ratio is inverted for a conventional car where about 80% of lifecycle emissions come directly from fuel burned while driving, and the rest comes from the embodied energy to make the car and fabricate gasoline.”

#automotive, #bmw-group, #circular-economy, #electric-vehicles, #tc, #transportation

Swedish company Northvolt raises $2.75B to accelerate European battery production

Swedish battery developer and manufacturer Northvolt AB has raised $2.75 billion in capital as it prepares to ramp up to an annual production capacity of 150 GWh in Europe by 2030.

The funding round – Northvolt’s largest thus far – was co-led by existing investors Goldman Sachs and Volkswagen, and new investors including the Swedish pension funds AP1-4, and OMERS, one of Canada’s largest pension plans. AMF, ATP, Baillie Gifford, Baron Capital Group, Bridford Investments Limited, Compagnia di San Paolo through Fondaco Growth, Cristina Stenbeck, Daniel Ek, IMAS Foundation, EIT InnoEnergy, Norrsken VC, PCS Holding, Scania and Stena Metall Finans also participated in the raise.

Volkswagen’s investment came to €500 million ($620 million), the OEM said Wednesday, maintaining its 20% stake in the battery manufacturer.

CNBC reported that Northvolt’s valuation now stands at $11.75 billion. The company declined to comment on the specific valuation figure to TechCrunch.

Northvolt has already scored major deals with automakers like Volkswagen and BMW. In July 2020, the company inked a $2.3 billion contract with BMW for batteries; more recently in March, Volkswagen put in a $14 billion order over a ten-year period. The two deals bring Northvolt’s total contracts to $27 billion. Other notable customers include Swedish heavy duty truck manufacturer Scania and energy storage company Fluence.

This brings Northvolt’s total raised to more than $6.5 billion since the company was founded in 2016. The manufacturer’s first gigafactory in Skellefteå, Sweden, will be expanded from 40 GWh to 60 GWh, in part due to increased demand from the Volkswagon order, the company said in a statement. That facility will commence production later in 2021.

Northvolt’s overarching plan is to ramp up to at least 150 GWh of annual battery production across Europe by 2030. To meet this massive target, the company is considering at least two additional gigafactories, including one in Germany.

Northvolt is one of Europe’s largest battery manufacturers. Company shareholder EIT InnoEnergy said in a statement Wednesday that the funding is key to Europe achieving its Green Deal objectives, which includes creating a European battery value chain.

The Swedish company aims to distinguish itself from other battery manufacturers by producing batteries using renewable energy for the manufacturing process. Northvolt says its batteries have an 80% lower carbon footprint than those made with coal power. It also recycles batteries in-house and reuses the raw materials in its production process.

#automotive, #bmw-group, #ev-batteries, #northvolt, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #tc, #transportation, #volkswagen

BMW and PG&E team up to prepare the electric grid for millions of EVs

BMW Group and California utility Pacific Gas & Electric are rolling out the next phase of a pilot that aims to test — and learn — how electric vehicles could support the integration of renewable energy on the electric grid.

The ChargeForward program, now entering its third phase, is open to PG&E customers who drive a BMW electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Around 3,000 drivers can sign up to voluntarily to allow their vehicle to be “smart charged” when electricity demand is low and renewable energy availability is high. Drivers will earn incentives for participating in the program, including $150 at sign-up and an additional $250 per year.

The program is one of the longest-running partnerships between an electric utility and an automaker. The first two phases had only 100 and 400 participants respectively, so this latest phase presents a marked expansion for the collaboration. It’s a sensible alliance for two industries that are preparing for the gradual decline in sales of internal combustion engines. For electric utilities, this means planning for a drastic increase in customer demand on a grid that is increasingly powered by renewable resources like solar and wind.   

bmw chargeforward electric

Image Credits: BMW

“Let’s assume someone plugs in at home on a Saturday morning at 9am and sets their departure time for 4 pm that day,” Adam Langton, BMW’s Energy Services manager who oversees the ChargeForward program, explained. “The ChargeForward software system communicates with the vehicle and determines that the vehicle is more than half full, needing 2 hours of charging to fill up the battery. The system then evaluates the person’s home electricity rate, renewable energy availability and congestion on the grid in their neighborhood. On this day, there is no congestion on the grid and solar energy will be very high in the afternoon. The ChargeForward system directs the vehicle to start charging at 1 pm and complete charging by 3 pm. This allows the driver to get a full battery prior to their departure time.” 

Electricity demand tends to follow a “duck curve” shape, peaking in the early evening as people return home from work – right as solar energy resources go off line. And people tend to charge their EVs overnight. To meet this demand, fossil fuel-emitting resources like natural gas ramp up.

The result? More greenhouse gas emissions. A study published by MIT researchers in Environmental Science and Technology found that in California overnight EV charging produces around 74% more GHGs than midday charging. (Variations in the grid mix matter here – in wind-heavy regions in the Midwest or Texas, overnight EV charging may make the most sense as lots of wind tends to be generated overnight.)  

The ChargePoint program aims to take advantage of the ample renewable resources available during the day and reduce GHG emissions in the process. Participating customers will enter their charging preferences and departure times on a BMW ChargeForward mobile app. BMW will also receive real-time information about the grid, such as the availability of renewable energy relative to the customer’s location, and it will use this data to calculate an optimal charging window and send it automatically to the vehicle. Customers will be able to opt-out of the charging shift at any point through the app.

While California is known for pursuing ambitious clean energy goals – including codifying into law a landmark target of achieving 100% renewable and zero-carbon electricity by 2045 – the state has also set a goal of getting 5 million EVs on the road by 2030. And that’s no surprise, considering that transportation is the single largest source of GHG emissions in the state. 

BMW and PG&E will also collaborate in a lab setting to explore vehicle-to-grid technologies that enable EVs to discharge electricity to the power grid. Such bi-directional functionality could allow EVs to be used as big backup generators in the case of emergencies or as distributed nano power plants to help balance the grid throughout the day.

The third phase of the ChargeForward program begins in mid-April and runs through March 2023. 

#automotive, #bmw, #bmw-group, #electric-vehicles, #pge, #transportation

Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt receives a $14 billion order from VW

Northvolt, the Swedish battery manufacturer which raised $1 billion in financing from investors led by Goldman Sachs and Volkswagen back in 2019, has signed a massive $14 billion battery order with VW for the next 10 years.

The big buy clears up some questions about where Volkswagen will be getting the batteries for its huge push into electric vehicles, which will see the automaker reach production capacity of 1.5 million electric vehicles by 2025.

The deal will not only see Northvolt become the strategic lead supplier for battery cells for Volkswagen Group in Europe, but will also involve the German automaker increasing its equity ownership of Northvolt.

As part of the partnership agreement, Northvolt’s gigafactory in Sweden will be expanded and Northvolt agreed to sell its joint venture share in Salzgitter, Germany to Volkswagen as the car maker looks to build up its battery manufacturing efforts across Europe, the companies said.

The agreement between Northvolt and VW brings the Swedish battery maker’s total contracts to $27 billion in the two years since it raised its big $1 billion cash haul.

“Volkswagen is a key investor, customer and partner on the journey ahead and we will continue to work hard with the goal of providing them with the greenest battery on the planet as they rapidly expand their fleet of electric vehicles,” said Peter Carlsson, the co-founder and chief executive of Northvolt, in a statement.

Northvolt’s other partners and customers include ABB, BMW Group, Scania, Siemens, Vattenfall, and Vestas. Together these firms comprise some of the largest manufacturers in Europe.

Back in 2019, the company said that its cell manufacturing capacity could hit 16 Gigawatt hours and that it had sold its capacity to the tune of $13 billion through 2030. That means that the Volkswagen deal will eat up a significant portion of expanded product lines.

Founded Carlsson, a former executive at Tesla, Northvolt’s battery business was intended to leapfrog the European Union into direct competition with Asia’s largest battery manufacturers — Samsung, LG Chem, and CATL.

Back when the company first announced its $1 billion investment round, Carlsson had said that Northvolt would need to build up to150 gigawatt hours of capacity to hit targets for. 2030 electric vehicle sales.

The plant in Sweden is expected to hit at least 32 gigawatt hours of production thanks, in part to backing by the Swedish pension fund firms AMF and Folksam and IKEA-linked IMAS Foundation, in addition to the big financial partners Volkswagen and Goldman Sachs.

Northvolt has had a busy few months. Earlier in March the company announced the acquisition of the Silicon Valley-based startup company Cuberg.

That acquisition gave Northvolt a foothold in the U.S. and established the company’s advanced technology center.

The acquisition also gives Northvolt a window into the newest battery chemistry that’s being touted as a savior for the industry — lithium metal batteries.

Cuberg spun out of Stanford University back in 2015 to commercialize what the company called its next-generation battery combining a liquid electrolyte with a lithium metal anode. The company’s customers include Boeing, BETA Technologies, Ampaire, and VoltAero and it was backed by Boeing HorizonX Ventures, Activate.org, the California Energy Commission, the Department of Energy and the TomKat Center at Stanford.

Cuberg’s cells deliver 70 percent increased range and capacity versus comparable lithium ion cells designed for electric aviation applications. The two companies hope that they can apply the technology to Northvolt’s automotive and industrial product portfolio with the ambition to industrialize cells in 2025 that exceed 1,000 Wh/L, while meeting the full spectrum of automotive customer requirements, according to a statement.

“The Cuberg team has shown exceptional ability to develop world-class technology, proven results and an outstanding customer base in a lean and efficient organization,” said Peter Carlsson, CEO and Co-Founder, Northvolt in a statement. “Combining these strengths with the capabilities and technology of Northvolt allows us to make significant improvements in both performance and safety while driving down cost even further for next-generation battery cells. This is critical for accelerating the shift to fully electric vehicles and responding to the needs of the leading automotive companies within a relevant time frame.”

 

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BMW, Mercedes Benz end ‘long term’ automated driving alliance, for now

BMW Group and Mercedes-Benz AG have punted on what was meant to be a long term collaboration to develop next-generation automated driving technology together, less than a year after announcing the agreement.

The German automakers called the break up “mutual and amicable” and have each agreed to concentrate on their existing development paths. Those new paths may include working with new or current partners. The two companies also emphasized that cooperation may be resumed at a later date.

The partnership, which was announced in July 2019, was never meant to be exclusive.  Instead, it reflected the increasingly common approach among legacy manufacturers to form loose development agreements in an aim to share the capitally intensive work of developing, testing and validating automated driving technology.

The two companies did have some lofty goals. The partnership aimed to develop  driver assistance systems, highly automated driving on highways, and automated parking and launch those technology in series vehicles scheduled for 2024.

It seems that the perceived benefits of working together were overshadowed by reality: creating a shared technology platform was a more complex and expensive task than expected, according to comments from the companies. BMW and Mercedes-Benz AG said they were unable to hold detailed expert discussions and talk to suppliers about technology roadmaps until the contract was signed last year.

“In these talks — and after extensive review — both sides concluded that, in view of the expense involved in creating a shared technology platform, as well as current business and economic conditions, the timing is not right for successful implementation of the cooperation,” the companies said.

BMW and Mercedes have other projects and partners. BMW, for instance, is part of a collaboration with Intel, Mobileye, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ansys. Daimler and Bosch launched a robotaxi pilot project in San Jose last year.

Meanwhile, both companies are still working together in other areas. Five years, BMW and Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, joined Audi AG to acquire location and technology platform HERE. That ownership consortium has since grown to include more companies.

And last year, BMW Group and Daimler AG also pooled their mobility services in a joint venture under the umbrella of the NOW family.

Separately, BMW said Friday it will cut 6,000 jobs in an agreement reached with the German Works Council. The cuts, prompted by sluggish sales caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, will be reportedly accomplished through early retirement, non-renewal of temporary contracts, ending redundant positions and not filling vacant positions, Marketwatch reported.

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