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

Spin’s electric scooters and bikes are now on Google Maps

Ford-owned micromobility company Spin has announced an integration with Google Maps. Now, users planning their trips in 84 cities, towns and campuses across the U.S., Canada, Germany and Spain will be able to view Spin’s electric scooters and bikes on the app while planning their trip.

Spin joins its top competition on the popular mapping app, Lime, which also recently announced an integration with transit planning app Moovit. We can expect to see further integrations of micromobility operators with mapping apps as shared mobility becomes part of the broader transit ecosystem.

A recent report from the North American Bikeshare & Scootershare Association on the state of the micromobility industry found that 50% of riders reported using shared mobility to connect to transit, and 16% of all micromobility trips were for the purpose of connecting to transit.

Similar to Lime, the Spin icon will now show up under Google Map’s bike section when planning a journey — only in the mobile app, not on the desktop. A user will see the nearest available Spin vehicle, how long it will take to walk to it, what the estimated battery range is and the expected arrival time if using the vehicle. Choosing that option will direct users to the Spin app to pay for and unlock the vehicle.

“With this integration, Spin is making it easier for millions of Google Maps users to easily incorporate shared bikes and scooters into their daily trips,” Ben Bear, CEO of Spin, said in a statement. “Our goal is to make it as low friction as possible for consumers to plan multi-modal journeys. It needs to be just as easy, and even more convenient to get around with bikes, buses, trains and scooters as it is with a personal car.”

Bear also said this collaboration with Google is Spin’s largest yet, and he teased “many more in the pipeline.” Spin is already integrated into platforms like Citymapper, Moovit, Transit and Kölner Verkehrs-Betriebe. This news comes not long after Spin announced it would be adding e-bikes to the mix and trying to capture market share with exclusive or semi-exclusive city partnerships. A major app integration such as this one could be a vote of confidence for Spin looking to partner with more cities in the future.

#ben-bear, #ford, #google, #lime, #micromobility, #moovit, #public-transport, #scooter-sharing, #spin, #transportation

Moovit integrates Lime electric scooters, bikes, mopeds into transit planning app

Shared electric micromobility company Lime announced a partnership to integrate its electric scooters, bikes and mopeds into the Moovit trip planning app. As of next week, Lime’s vehicles will be included as a travel option in tandem with public transit for either all or part of a multimodal journey on the Israeli app.

Nearby Lime vehicles will show up in Moovit in 117 cities across 20 countries, including the United States, South Africa, Australia and throughout Europe. Lime says this partnership is the largest micromobility integration within an app fully dedicated to mobility as a service (MaaS) to date based on the number of cities involved. It plans to add 40 other cities in the following months.

The partnership between Lime and Moovit, which is a subsidiary of Intel’s Mobileye, follows a trend in the transportation world that integrates public transit, ridesharing and micromobility into one optimized system. Uber, one of Lime’s lead investors, delivered a whitepaper this year laying out its plans to facilitate such a centralization of mobility modes. Some public transit agencies, like St. Louis Metro Transit, that have experienced a decline in ridership hope directing users to third-party apps that lay out different forms of mobility would eventually bring it back. Others might just see joining forces as a way to get commuters out of cars, giving them seamless options for traveling that last mile from home to the train station without contributing to carbon emissions.

“This partnership signifies that mobility companies recognize the need to collaborate together to offer riders more convenient modes of public and shared transportation as they return,” Nir Erez, Moovit co-founder and CEO, said in a statement. “Offering more alternative options that can easily get people to their destinations is a critical component of a MaaS platform, especially in some of the most congested cities in the world.”

Lime is touching on a moment with cities, no doubt in a way that will lead to more permit awards for the micromobility giant. The pandemic has caused many cities to embrace micromobility and draft recovery plans that highlight sustainable mobility.

“Moovit captures a market specifically focused on planning commutes and local travel, and helping users access micromobility as part of those journeys will hopefully reduce car travel and further encourage people to take public transit again,” Tiffani Gibson, senior manager of Lime’s corporate communications, told TechCrunch. “We want cities to view us as a sustainable partner that works in tandem with the broader transit ecosystem. We provide an additive service that eases and encourages connections to transit, especially in traditionally underserved areas. We want riders to return to transit in conjunction with our service and are looking to replace car trips, not transit trips.”

According to Moovit’s COVID-19 mobility report, public transit is back on the rise in big cities like New York, Paris and London, which is probably why Lime wants to tap into the market now. Last month, 41% of Lime’s scooter rides were taken during peak commuting hours, according to data from the company, which also says historical data has shown a significant amount of Lime rides connecting riders with public transit.

Lime is also integrated with Google Maps, one of the most downloaded MaaS apps in the world, but it wouldn’t say in how many cities Lime’s vehicles are integrated with the app. On Google Maps, users can choose to route their destination via car, public transit, walking or bike. Bikers are offered Lime’s vehicles as a transport option for the whole journey, whereas with Moovit, the point is to feature Lime vehicles for first- or last-mile solutions to mass transit.

With both Google Maps and Moovit, users can see in real-time where a Lime vehicle is nearby, how long it’ll take to walk there, an estimated trip cost and remaining battery percentage. To unlock the journey, users will be redirected to the Lime app after clicking on the logo.

#e-bikes, #electric-scooters, #lime, #maas, #micromobility, #mobility-as-a-service, #moovit, #public-transit, #tc, #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: 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

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

The Station: London scooter winners and Ford’s most important EV

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.

I want to point to two Extra Crunch articles before jumping into the rest of the news and analysis. Yes, Extra Crunch requires a subscription. We’re ramping up the transportation analysis and features in EC and I hope you find it worthwhile.

We’re ramping up our founder Q&A series. The first one was an interview with Revel founder and CEO Frank Reig. This time, it is Arrival founder Denis Sverdlov, who founded his first company at 22 selling IT consulting software to enterprise customers. Since then, he has built and exited multiple companies, most notably telecommunications operator Yota Group. He also founded Roborace.

We have two more interviews coming up with Veo co-founder and CEO Candice Xie and Refraction AI co-founder Matthew Johnson-Roberson.

Finally, we published a piece that examines voice recognition in vehicles, a marketplace that has tech giants like Google and Amazon competing for space with a few up and comers and established suppliers like Cerence.

A friendly reminder that my email inbox is always open — and yes, I do read your messages. 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’

Dott, Lime and TIER have won the long-awaited, much-coveted bid to operate e-scooter shares in London. The pilot, which will run for up to 12 months, will begin June 7 in some of London’s boroughs, including Canary Wharf and the City of London. More neighborhoods are expected to join as the year progresses, according to TfL. Lambeth and Southwark are also seeking participation. Between 60 to 150 scooters will be available initially in each borough.

This announcement is significant not only because London is one of the biggest targets for micromobility shares, but also because Transport for London is very keen on collecting data from the scooter companies that will help determine how e-scooters could be integrated into a sustainable transport pandemic recovery plan.

Can micromobility address the racial wealth gap?

The Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation released a report entitled Cementing an Equity Framework for Micro Mobility that talks about next steps for its NYC Better Bike Share Partnership and outlines goals for fostering equity and opportunity for communities of color through public transportation.

“Creating a truly equitable bikeshare system is about more than just placement of stations and the price of fares. It requires deep partnerships with the community and empowering the voices of those who have been traditionally underserved,” said Laura Fox, General Manager of Citi Bike. “We are grateful to the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation for their leadership and ongoing efforts to create a culture of cycling, particularly by addressing street safety. As this progress report highlights, we have many accomplishments to be proud of and we look forward to continued partnership to build on these successes.”
Accessible mobility is one of the major drivers of wealth, and I’m a big proponent of the potential for active forms of mobility, from e-scooters to push bikes and everything in between, to both help cities cut emissions and help residents stay healthy.

From a startup’s perspective, can you even contribute to this equitable goal and also make money? I’ll be discussing this in a few weeks at our TC Mobility Event on June 9 with advocate and consultant Tamika Butler, CEO and co-founder at Remix, Tiffany Chu, and CEO and co-founder of Revel, Frank Reig.

Spinning tales of SPACs…

The aftereffects of Bird going SPAC last week is that now we’re all wondering which micromobility company is going to go SPAC next. Will it be Lime? TIER? Or maybe Spin? Bloomberg reported Ford is considering divesting Spin, according to “people familiar with the matter.”

Currently, we have a lot of whisperings and speculation and not a lot of facts. Rumors circulating involve Spin spinning off from Ford or merging with a special purpose acquisition company. Spin did not want to comment, and I think that’s fair given the nebulous shape of this “news.”

While we’re on the subject of Bird…

Bird is working with IT Asset Partners (ITAP) to give its batteries a second life. So, when a scooter reaches the end of its life, it’s broken down for parts, with batteries shipped over to ITAP. Then ITAP breaks down each battery module to the cellular level to get as many reusable battery bits as possible.

This is not only an eco-friendly way to do business, but it’s also increasingly necessary in a world that’s going electric faster than supply can keep up with.

“The circular economy is where the world is going, and it will help determine how global businesses function over the next 10 years,” said Robert Mullaney, Director of Business Development at ITAP, in a Bird blog post announcing the partnership. “As battery technology has improved year over year, their second life potential has increased as well, allowing them to be used in broader and more advanced applications. This includes things like computers and computer chargers.”

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

Is it me or am I seeing more activity in the aviation/eVTOL sector these days? We’ve had three SPACs — Lillium, Archer and Joby — plus a smattering of other funding news in the past four months.

And now, there’s one more to add to the list. Electric aviation startup Beta Technologies closed a $368 million Series A funding round with investments from Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund. The new capital is the second round of funding announced by the company this year, after the company raised $143 million in private capital in March. Beta’s valuation is now at $1.4 billion, putting it in a small circle of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) unicorns.

The funding round was led by Fidelity Management & Research Company, with undisclosed additions from Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, a $2 billion fund established in September 2019 to advance the development of sustainable technologies. The Climate Pledge fund has also made contributions toward electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian, battery recycler Redwood Materials and ZeroAvia, a hydrogen fuel cell aviation company.

Beta is a bit different from other high valuation eVTOL startups. The Vermont-based company isn’t primarily focused on air taxis. Instead, it’s been targeting defense applications, cargo delivery and medical logistics, as well as building out its network of rapid-charging systems in the northeast U.S. Its debut aircraft, the ALIA-250c, was built to serve these various solutions by being capable of carrying six people or a pilot and 1,500 pounds.

Other deals that got my attention …

Mile Auto, insurance tech startup, raised $10.3 million in a seed funding round that includes investment from Ulu Ventures, Emergent Ventures, Thornton Capital, and Sure Ventures. The company said it will use the funding to expand availability of its insurance offering to half of the U.S. auto insurance market by the end of 2021, as well as hiring, adding new distribution channels, onboarding of white-label partners and expanding its automaker network. Mile Auto has also partnered with Ford Motor to offer auto insurance to owners. Mile Auto launched a similar program with Porsche Financial Services in 2019.

Portside, an aviation startup that is building a platform for managing the backend of a corporate flight department, charter operation, government fleet and fractional ownership operation, today announced that it has raised a $17 million funding round led by Tiger Global Management, with participation from existing investors I2BF Global Ventures and SOMA Capital.

Twaice, the German battery analytics software company, raised $26 million in Series B funding led by Chicago-based Energize Ventures. The company, which primarily works in the mobility and energy storage industries, now has a total financing of $45 million.

Virtuo, a Paris-based startup that lets people rent a car for a few days, or up to a few months, has raised $96 million. The funding money will be using to invest in its tech and to expand to more markets beyond France, U.K. and Spain.

Waybridge, a company that has created a supply chain platform for raw materials, raised $30 million in a Series B funding round co-led by Rucker Park Capital and Craft Ventures, with participation from Venrock. The company has developed a digital platform that lets customers track inventory and shipments. Waybridge’s pitch is that its product can help companies navigate disruptive events like the Suez Canal traffic jam and COVID-19.

WeaveGrid raises $15 million Series A round to enable widescale adoption of EVs on the electric grid. Coatue and Breakthrough Energy Ventures will join existing investors to drive software innovation at intersection of utility and automotive sectors.

Wejo, the British automotive-data startup backed by General Motors, is in talks to go public through a merger with Virtuoso Acquisition Corp., Bloomberg reported.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Welcome back to Policy Corner! A decision from a little-known but very powerful California regulator caught my eye this week. The California Air Resources Board, which regulates air quality in the state, adopted new rules on Thursday that will require 90% of ride-share trips to be completed by electric vehicles by 2030.

It’s important to remember that ride-sharing giants Uber and Lyft have both vowed to go 100% electric fleets by that year, but this is the first time that a state has adopted EV requirements for ride-share companies. In written comments submitted ahead of the hearing, both Uber and Lyft urged the Board to create EV rebates that are specifically targeted at high-mileage drivers and fleets, and to install EV chargers in “urban and traditionally underserved areas.”

“California’s EV incentive programs and EV infrastructure investments over the past decade have served an exclusive population―wealthy, white, homeowners―that does not reflect Lyft’s driver population,” Paul Augustine, Lyft’s senior manager of sustainability, said in submitted comments.

Back over in Washington, there was a hearing at the House Committee on Energy and Commerce about the ways in which new automotive technologies (like autonomous driving) might enhance vehicle safety and help cut down on the many thousands of automotive deaths that occur on U.S. roads each year.

AV proponents like the Self Driving Coalition point to the many possible safety benefits of AVs. Electrical engineer Ragunathan Rajkumar, who testified at the meeting, urged lawmakers to advance a policy framework to support innovation to ensure America stays competitive against foreign rivals in AV technology.

However, the committee also heard testimony from people who urged a careful and pragmatic approach to AVs. Greg Regan, in testimony representing the AFL-CIO, argued that transportation workers should have a place at the table in conversations about AV deployment. He also said that the government should enact policy to ensure that the AV manufacturing industry yields secure jobs for American workers. Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, argued that other safety and design upgrades, as well as improved vehicle performance standards, could do much to save lives in the near-term.

“The idea that tens of thousands of unproven and unregulated AVs deployed quickly and without oversight, or a significant upgrade in highway and road infrastructure, will automatically be safer than what we have now may make for a good talking point in a quarterly earnings report — but is not good transportation policy,” he said in his testimony.

The issue of forced arbitration also came up during the hearing. Below is an exchange between Congressman Rush and Jason Levine, who is the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

RUSH: As you know, even pedestrians may lose their right to seek justice in the courts if there is a continued proliferation of forced arbitration clauses. These clauses are often buried in terms of service agreements that waive a consumer’s right to sue in court, participate in a class action, or appeal the arbitrator’s decision. Do forced arbitration clauses related to AVs pose a danger to pedestrians? If so, why?

LEVINE: They pose a real threat. The threat is this, as we discussed earlier, the ability to make sure you’re holding any manufacturer, AV or otherwise, responsible for something defective, a defective vehicle, is critical to safety, it is a backstop to our entire system. And so, if you are a pedestrian who has entered into an agreement unknowingly, when you downloaded an app to order a pizza maybe, and you get hit by a pizza delivery vehicle, and you said, “well I’m going to do everything from a legal standpoint through binding arbitration,” you have now lost your ability to go to court. That sounds outlandish, but it’s not actually that far from where we are in terms of binding arbitration removing our ability to hold manufacturers accountable. So that’s something that we do not want to see in an AV context.

Station readers: what do you think?

 — Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

Lots to get to this week.

Autonomous vehicles

May Mobility announced it is launching a new autonomous shuttle service in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The free shuttle service called A2GO will be available to the public starting Oct. 11, 2021. May Mobility said it will operate a fleet of five autonomous, shared, on-demand vehicles as part of the A2GO deployment. Four hybrid-electric Lexus RX 450h vehicles, which can carry three passengers, and one Polaris GEM fully electric vehicle that has capacity for one wheelchair passenger will operate in a service area that connects Kerrytown, the University of Michigan campus and the State Street corridor.

Chinese robotaxi startup Pony.ai has been given permission by California regulators to pilot its autonomous vehicles without a human safety driver behind the wheel in three cities. While dozens of companies — 55 in all — have active permits to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver, it’s far less common to receive permission for driverless vehicles. Pony is the eighth company to be issued a driverless testing permit in the state, a list that includes Chinese companies AutoX, Baidu and WeRide as well as U.S. businesses Cruise, Nuro, Waymo and Zoox. Only Nuro has been granted a so-called deployment permit, which allows it to operate commercially.

Electric vehicles

It was a big week for EVs, and not just because of the Ford F-150 Lightning reveal. Although that was certainly the biggest EV reveal.

Ars Technica had a fun and brief look at electric vehicles in the beginning of the automotive age.

Canoo gave a few more details of its electric microbus-slash-van, which will be available to buy in 2022 at a base price of $34,750 before tax incentives or add-ons. The Los Angeles-based company, which debuted on the Nasdaq public exchange earlier this year, now taking preorders in the United States for the “lifestyle” vehicle, as well as for its round-top pickup truck and multi-purpose delivery van. While Canoo did not release pricing for the other two vehicles, it said that deliveries for the pickup and production for the delivery van are slated to start as early as 2023. Customers can reserve a model by placing a $100 deposit per vehicle with the company.

The company also disclosed in a regulatory filing that it is being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, just months after its merger with special purpose acquisition company Hennessy Capital Acquisition Corp. The investigation is broad, covering the Hennessy’s initial public offering and merger with Canoo, the company’s operations, business model, revenues, revenue strategy, customer agreements, earnings and other related topics, along with the recent departures of certain of the company’s officers, according to its first quarter earnings report. Canoo learned of the investigation on April 29. Canoo noted in the regulatory filing. The company added that it does not consider the investigation or other lawsuits it is facing to be material to its business.

ElectReon, an inductive in-road charging technology for commercial and passenger electric vehicles, is joining the “Arena of the Future” project in Brescia, Italy where it will integrate its wireless technology to charge two Stellantis vehicles, and an IVECO bus while driving. The project aims to demonstrate contactless charging for a range of EVs as they drive on highways and toll roads as a potential pathway to decarbonizing our transportation systems along motorway transport corridors.

Ford had a a few EV news items coinciding with the F-150 Lightning reveal. First, there was the truck’s debut, which is arguably its most important new product in years and a critical piece of the company’s $22 billion investment into electrification. This is a challenging vehicle for Ford. As I noted in my coverage, the truck will need everything that has made its gas-powered counterpart the best-selling vehicle in North America as well as new benefits that come from going electric. That means torque, performance, towing capability and the general layout has to meet the needs of its customers, many of whom use it for commercial purposes. The vehicle specs suggest that Ford has delivered on the torque and power, while keeping the same cab and bed dimensions as its gas counterpart.

We ran a poll the night of the reveal asking folks “which electric truck is for you?” The choices and results were 37% picked the Ford F-150 Lightning, 19.6% choose Rivian R1T and 43.4% said they’ll hodl the Tesla Cybertruck.

Ford is offering one item that some customers might find appealing. Ford said its new F-150 Lightning truck, which will come to market in spring 2022, can provide energy to a customer’s home in the event of an outage.

Meanwhile, Ford also announced that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with SK Innovation to establish a joint venture to manufacture batteries for electric vehicles in the United States. The new venture, dubbed BlueOvalSK, will produce around 60 GWh annually starting mid-decade. The MOU is the latest sign that Ford intends to vertically develop its battery capabilities.

Finally, the Verge interviewed Ford CEO Jim Farley.

UPDATE: Ford revealed Monday morning the 2022 F-150 Lightning Pro, a version of the truck designed with commercial customers in mind.

Kia, which held its U.S. reveal of the the Kia EV6, an all-electric crossover that is supposed to kick off the automaker’s Plan S strategy to shift away from internal combustion engines and toward EVs. The EV6, one of 11 electric vehicles that Kia plans to deliver globally by 2026. will come to the U.S. early next year. It’s also the first dedicated battery-electric vehicle to be built on its new Electric-Global Modular Platform, which is shared with Hyundai and Genesis as part of the Hyundai Motor Group.

Lamborghini announced it is going to eventually electrify its portfolio, although it is taking a slow road to get there. The will first pay homage to combustion engines with the introduction of two new V12 luxury sports cars this year before it makes a push into electrification. The aim is to switch its full lineup of vehicles to hybrids by the end of 2024 and launch of an all-electric Lamborghini in the second half of the decade. The company said it plans to invest 1.5 billion euros ($1.82 billion) over four years to make the transition to hybrid vehicles, the largest allocation in its history.

Flight

Volocopter revealed a new electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft targeting the suburban-to-city commuter. The four-seater VoloConnect, which is designed to have a range of 62 miles, is a significant departure from short urban trip aircraft called VoloCity. The two-seat VoloCity, which has to be certified, has a 22-mile range.

VoloConnect’s longer range indicates that the company has its sights set on markets outside of major city centers, and that it is looking to more directly compete with rival eVTOL startups. VoloConnect’s aircraft specs are in line with that of competitors Archer Aviation and Wisk Aero, which each have eVTOL designs with an anticipated range of around 60 miles.

Speaking of Wisk Aero, the startup filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in its ongoing lawsuit with rival electric air travel startup Archer Aviation. The injunction could put a wrench in Archer’s operations should the courts approve it. Wisk has asked the court to immediately prohibit Archer from using 52 trade secrets that it alleges were stolen by former employees who were later hired by Archer. The trade secrets “span the gamut of systems within the aircraft and processes for development,” a Wisk spokesperson told TechCrunch.

In-car tech

The Google I/O developer conference contained a few vehicle related announcements, including that it is extending its Android for Cars App Library, which is available as part of Jetpack, to support the Android Automotive operating system. This is good news for developers who can now create an app that is compatible with two different, but sometimes overlapping platforms: Android OS and Android Auto. It also means developers can create one app that should work seamlessly between various makes and models of vehicles. The company is already working with so-called Early Access Partners, which includes Parkwhiz, Plugshare, Sygic, ChargePoint, Flitsmeister, SpotHero and others to bring apps in these categories to cars powered by Android Automotive OS.

Google also announced it is working with BMW and other automakers to develop a digital key that will let car owners lock, unlock and start a vehicle from their Android smartphone. The digital car keys will become available on select Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones later this year. Google didn’t name the other automakers that it is working with, but the folks there tell me it will be available in some 2021 models and a number of 2022 model vehicles. My educated guess, based on the companies it is already working with, is that Volvo and GM brands will get the digital key.

HERE Technologies, the location data and technology platform, will power the in-vehicle Human-Machine Interface (HMI) navigation solution in Arrival’s upcoming electric vehicles.

Holoride, the Audi spinoff that’s creating an in-vehicle XR passenger entertainment experience, is deploying blockchain technology and NFTs as the next stage in its preparation for a 2022 market launch. The company said it is integrating Elrond blockchain into its tech stack to bring transparency to its ecosystem of car manufacturers and content creators. The aim is to use NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, to incentivize developers into creating more content on holoride’s platform for the promise of more money earned off token purchases, and to attract passengers who want to personalize their in-car experience.

Stellantis and Foxconn have formed a joint venture called Mobile Drive to supply in-car and connected-car technologies. The non-binding agreement is meant to speed up the time it takes to develop and deploy in-vehicle user experiences enabled by advanced consumer electronics, HMI interfaces and services, according to the companies.

#automotive, #dott, #electric-vehicles, #ev6, #ford, #gm, #hyundai, #kia, #lime, #scooters, #tier-mobility, #toyota

Chasing hype is human nature: The tyranny of startup trends

I think it’s important that we explicitly discuss something that every VC instinctively knows: The hype around a given business or category has become a form of bias for investors and founders when vetting ideas to pursue. At any point in time, you can find FOMO-flavored bad business decisions based on false market signals somewhere in tech. It’s human nature for excitement to be contagious, but treating it as a leading factor when considering a new opportunity is not a good idea.

It’s human nature for excitement to be contagious, but treating it as a leading factor when considering a new opportunity is not a good idea.

Take the 17th century tulip-mania, when, at one point, Dutch speculators drove tulip futures so high that one bulb of a particularly rare species was valued at more than a fully furnished luxury house1. We can look at this and collectively lampoon anyone who could possibly have bought into that absurd trend.

But that’s the rule with mega-hyped markets. The dot-com apocalypse was inevitable in hindsight. So was the consumer lending bubble that set off the global financial crisis. But major market catastrophes aside, newly hyped sectors in tech seem to pop up, like Moore’s Law clockwork, every year or so.

In the last 15 years, giant bonfires of cash have turned to ash financing companies in hyped up sectors like SoLoMo (I bet many people reading this have never even heard of this trend), clean tech, VR gaming, daily deals, crypto (which spawned flashy undercard entries like PotCoin, BurgerKing’s WhopperCoin, and yes, TrumpCoin), the sharing economy, scooters (in which Bird, Lime, Lyft and Uber competed around little more than the color scheme of the otherwise identical Segway Ninebots), and SPACs (through which the aforementioned white-colored scooter company is going public).

Usually, these bubbles start when a breakout company creates a discontinuity in the market — a technology that changes how we live (Apple’s iPhone), or delivers an exceptional solution to a ubiquitous pain point better and more cost effectively than before (Uber’s ride-sharing). Rational speculators look to apply lessons from these breakouts to identify other massive winners. If a few seem to take off, irrational FOMO takes over.

The hype-driven race to the bottom

The hype-driven race to the bottom. Image Credits: Victor Echevarria

What does that look like? Here’s an actual example, per data sourced from PitchBook:

Dott, Lime and Tier selected for London e-scooter trial

Transport for London and London Councils have announced Dott, Lime and Tier Mobility as the winners of its prized e-scooter pilot, confirming last month’s suspicions based on job postings by the companies. 

Last year, the government legalized e-scooter rental trials by local authorities, although private e-scooter riding is still illegal. This legislation spurred the launch of TfL and London Council’s open and competitive procurement process for viable operators. The pilot, which will run for up to 12 months, will begin June 7 in some of London’s boroughs, Canary Wharf and the City of London. More neighborhoods expected to join as the year progresses, according to TfL. Lambeth and Southwark are also seeking participation. 

Rides can only begin and end in participating neighborhoods, which will designate parking bays for the scooters that are enforced by operators’ geofencing capabilities. However, riders will be able to move freely across these boroughs and “ride-through areas,” which thus far only appears to be Tower Hamlets. Between 60 and 150 e-scooters will be available to rent in each participating borough. Tfl will gradually let operators that demonstrate strong compliance add scooters. Those that don’t comply could have their scooter numbers reduced. 

Safety and data sharing are core requirements for the participating scooter companies. TfL hopes to be able to use data shared by the operators to help London and the United Kingdom shape future policy on e-scooters and investigate them as a viable option for London’s sustainable recovery from the pandemic. London’s mayor has set a goal of being a zero-carbon city by 2030, so green forms of mobility that decrease reliance on ICE vehicles is essential. 

“We’re doing all we can to support London’s safe and sustainable recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and it’s clear that e-scooters could act as an innovative, greener alternative to car trips,” said Helen Sharp, TfL’s e-scooter trial lead in a statement. “This new trial will provide the data and insights we need to determine the longer-term role e-scooters could play in our strategy for a greener and healthier future for London.”  

TfL outlined the following safety requirements for scooters: 

  • A lower maximum speed of 12.5mph; 
  • Lights at the front and the rear of the vehicles that are always on throughout any rental;  
  • Audible warning systems that can be used without adjusting the rider’s grip of the handlebar;
  • ‘First-ride policies’ requiring new users to take an e-learning safety course;
  • Rules against riding on sidewalks. 

As with all governing city bodies, street clutter is of particular importance to London. Aside from strict geofencing regulations, there will also be a mandatory response time for operators in cases where vehicles have been improperly parked, are damaged or are causing an obstruction, according to TfL. 

“The safety of those using e-scooters, as well as other road users and pedestrians, is absolutely paramount, so it’s important that they are trialled in this rigorous way to ensure high standards,” said Will Norman, London’s walking and cycling commissioner, in a statement. 

Dott, Lime and Tier will set their own rental pricing, but they’ll need to be mindful of the needs of essential workers and those with lower incomes by offering appropriate discounts. Lime already offers its Lime Access Program in operating cities, which provides 50% off rides to those on public assistance and workers who have been most affected by the pandemic. 

After Lime’s recent win of New York and Paris, the company, which can be found slinging rides for electric scooters, bikes and mopeds in over 130 cities across Europe, the Middle East and the United States, is merely cementing its big city dominance. With its ongoing e-bike operations in London, the company was a shoe-in. 

Berlin-based Tier Mobility, which also operates in Paris, is the second heaviest hitter. Its recent expansion into Kraków, Poland marked its 100th city, and the company plans to extend courage in Europe, the Middle East and new markets, as well as add e-bikes to its fleet. 

In addition to e-scooters, Tier will be bringing its rider-swappable battery business to London, allowing riders to exchange batteries at charging stations hosted in local businesses across London. This would allow riders to earn free trips in the process while bringing increased footfall for businesses trying to recover from the pandemic. Additionally, having this crowdsourced approach has the potential to reduce congestion associated with collection and transporting e-scooters to a warehouse for charging . 

As seems to be the case with these metropolitan scooter deals, there’s always one promising underdog. In the case of London, that’s Amsterdam-based Dott, which recently raised $85 million in a Series B, and operates in about 20 cities in Europe. London will be Dott’s first city in the U.K. 

#dott, #lime, #tier, #transportation

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

Lime launches 100 e-mopeds in New York City as Mayor de Blasio reveals plan to fully re-open by July 1

Weeks after Lime became one of the first companies to win the bid to operate e-scooters in New York City, the micromobility giant is bringing e-mopeds to the city’s streets. This will be the first company to host multiple modes of micromobility sharing in NYC.

On Friday, Lime will release 100 electric mopeds onto the streets of Brooklyn, with planned expansions in Queens and lower Manhattan in the coming weeks. NYC is often choked and heated by smog from car pollution, but if it wants to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, it’ll have to get comfortable with seeing more electric micromobility crop up.

Lime will be directly competing with the only other existing dockless e-moped operator in the city, Revel, which just announced the launch of an all-EV rideshare service. Lime’s initial geographic zones of operation will more or less match Revel’s map, which includes much of north Brooklyn, from Williamsburg, to Greenpoint and Brooklyn Heights, but which will also extend southeast to the Flatlands, according to a Lime spokesperson.

Earlier this month, Lime also launched e-mopeds in Washington D.C. and Paris. With each launch, Lime has stressed its commitment to rider and road user safety with features like AI-enabled helmet detection and license verification and a liveness test, which asks the rider to make various facial expressions into the camera when signing up in order to prove they’re a real person, rather than using a static photo of someone else. A spokesperson said Lime can also use the liveness test to match the rider to their driver’s license to ensure it’s the same person.

Lime also requires a mandatory rider education curriculum designed in consultation with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and its service is covered by motor vehicle liability insurance, which provides financial protection if a rider were to harm someone else or their property while driving, but not for the rider or rider’s property.

Competitor Revel learned the hard way to include such safety features. Last summer, the company took its mopeds off the roads for a few weeks following several deaths and reports that riders weren’t wearing helmets, in order to come up with a safety plan that would assuage the city’s fears. Now Revel requires that users take a helmet selfie and requires all riders to take a 21-question safety training quiz and watch an instructional video before hopping on a moped for the first time. The app also has a community reporting tool that anyone can use to report bad behavior to Revel.

The steps Lime and Revel are taking to ensure rider safety are not dictated by the NYC Department of Transportation. Whereas the DOT engaged in a lengthy process to approve e-scooters to operate in the city, mopeds are not regulated by the city.

“We made an effort to work collaboratively with DOT, keep them informed of our plans, answer their questions and address any concerns,” a Lime spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Lime will also offer its Lime Aid program to give discounted rates to Pell Grant recipients, job seekers and recipients of subsidy programs, as well as free rides to frontline workers, teachers, non-profit employees, artists and hospitality workers — those who have been most affected by the pandemic.

As more New Yorkers get vaccinated and the city starts to open up (with a freshly-revealed plan to fully re-open the city by July 1) , Lime wants to entrench itself as a leading micromobility vessel, and they couldn’t ask for a better time than a post-pandemic summer.

“The pandemic has pushed New Yorkers to look for new ways to get around that are safe, sustainable and car-free,” said Lime CEO Wayne Ting in a statement. “Now, as New York emerges from a difficult year, we are eager to support an economic comeback driven not by cars, but by sustainable options that reduce congestion and allow for open-air, socially-distanced travel.”

#electric-mopeds, #lime, #new-york-city, #transportation

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.  

#bird, #e-scooters, #electric-scooters, #lime, #micromobility, #new-york-city, #tc, #transportation, #veoride

The Station: The biggest SPAC ever and reading the micromobility permit tea leaves

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.

Hi there, new and returning readers. This is 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.

Before jump into micromobbin’ and the rest, I wanted to point you to another Extra Crunch piece, this time a deep dive into second-life batteries. As Aria Alamalhodaei reports:

The average electric vehicle lithium-ion battery can retain up to 70% of its charging capacity after being removed. The business proposition for second-life batteries is therefore intuitive: Before sending the battery to a recycler, automakers can potentially generate additional revenue by putting it to use in another application or selling it to a third party.

The upshot: automakers are starting to make moves.

Keep an eye out for Extra Crunch stories on the business of hydrogen, software in micromobility and voice in cars.

One last housekeeping item. The folks at Elemental Excelerator are looking to scale more climate technologies and invest in its 10th cohort of companies. If you’re not familiar, Elemental is a commercial catalyst for growth-stage companies in energy, mobility, agriculture, water, the circular economy, and beyond. (TechCrunch just recently wrote about ChargerHelp!, which is going through the Elemental Excelerator incubator)

The deadline to apply is April 16. Questions? Reach out to Danielle Harris @innovation_dj

Btw, 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’

Transit authorities in New York City and London have remained steadfast in their refusal to announce the winners of their respective e-scooter pilots, which both should have started weeks ago. But a peek at company websites, LinkedIns and job boards reveal who is at least preparing to enter the last two big frontiers of dockless, shared micromobility.

I’m betting on Lime securing both cities, which feels more like an educated guess given the company’s reach. Dott looks like it’ll be opening up in London; Superpedestrian, and maybe Spin, in NYC. Bird and Voi also have job listings in both cities, but the evidence backing concession wins is not conclusive based on listings alone.


Speaking of Lime, the company rolled out its first e-mopeds in Washington, D.C. and Paris over the past two weeks. This launch makes D.C. the ultimate Lime-stan, being the first city to host all three modes of the company’s transport options which also include e-bikes and e-scooters. City officials and Lime agreed that riders will have to snap a mandatory helmet selfie to be able to take off.

Lime isn’t the only shared micromobility company that’s eyeing expansion. Dutch e-scooter startup Go Sharing is spreading its wings outside the Netherlands with a launch in Vienna, and Berlin-based Tier has acquired Budapest’s app maker Makery. It’s not clear how much Tier paid for the company, but Makery will serve as Tier’s tech hub in Central and Eastern Europe as the company plans expansion later this year.

It seems like the dockless rideshare industry is on its way up, but let us not forget how many stars need to align to make it work. After weeks of delays, U.K.-based Beryl canceled its launch of e-scooters in Staten Island, citing logistical and supply chain issues due to Covid.

New ride swag releases

China’s Niu appears to be doing well, reporting a surge in electric scooter sales in the first quarter, up 273% to almost 150,000 e-scooters. On Tuesday, Niu launched four new vehicles, including a new electric kick scooter that will be sold in international markets starting at $599.

While we’re discussing sexy new rides, check out Segway’s futuristic-looking e-motorcycle. (No, I didn’t think “sexy” and “Segway” could exist in the same sentence either, yet here we are.)

This particular sports bike is a reminder that the company has branched out into the world of cool electric mobility since its 2015 acquisition by Ninebot. The Apex H2 is definitely not the stuff of mall cops and tour groups. What’s more, the new motorcycle is powered by a combination of hydrogen and electricity — essentially hydrogen stored in tanks will be converted into electricity and then stored in a battery. The only byproduct would be water vapor released from the tailpipe.

Post-Rona public transit push

Many policy-focused armchair experts have discussed the potential benefits of cities intertwining with micromobility and rideshare companies to encourage a post-Covid public transit recovery. Sydney, Australia might be the first city to give it a shot.

Starting mid-2021, up to 10,000 riders will be able to use their digital Opal Card to pay for an Uber, a fixed fare Ingogo taxi trip or a Lime bike journey. If they catch public transport within an hour of those rides, they’ll get up to a $3 credit on their Opal account.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

OK, so it’s not a done deal yet, but it has the makings of being so large that I just had to make it ‘deal of the week.’

Citing unnamed sources, Bloomberg reported that Southeast Asian ride-hailing and delivery giant Grab Holdings has attracted backing from T. Rowe Price Group Inc. and Temasek Holdings Pte for its planned merger with a blank-check company.

Grab isn’t just a ride-hailing app anymore. It has added all kinds of services to its app such as financial services and food delivery. The value of that app might explain the number of firms that are apparently lining up to join a private investment in public equity offering (PIPE) to support Grab’s combination with Altimeter Growth Corp. BlackRock Inc. is one of those firms that is in talks to participate in the PIPE, which could raise about $4 billion.

The upshot? The deal could value Grab at more than $34 billion. That would make it the biggest SPAC ever.

I’m going to call it. Peak SPAC is here.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Elior, the corporate catering company has acquired French delivery startup Nestor for an undisclosed amount.

Kavak, the Mexican startup focused on the used car market in Mexico and Argentina, raise a Series D round of $485 million, which now values the company at $4 billion. Kavak is now one of the top five highest-valued startups in Latin America.

Kolonial, a startup based out of Oslo that offers same-day or next-day delivery of food, meal kits and home essentials, has raised €223 million ($265 million) in an equity round of funding. Along with that, the company — profitable as of this year — is rebranding to Oda and plans to use the money (and new name) to expand to more markets, starting first with Finland and then Germany in 2022, Ingrid Lunden reports.

LanzaJet, the company commercializing a process to convert alcohol into jet fuel, gained energy giant Shell as a strategic investor. All Nippon Airways, Suncor Energy, Mitsui and British Airways are also investors. The funding amount wasn’t disclosed. LanzaJet is a spinoff from LanzaTech, one of the last surviving climate tech startups from the first cleantech boom that’s still privately held.

Nuvocargo, a digital logistics platform for cross-border trade, raised a $12 million Series A funding round led by QED Investors and participation from David Velez, Michael Ronen, Raymond Tonsing, FJ Labs and Clocktower. Previous investors NFX and ALLVP also put money into this round.

QuantumScape Corporation said it successfully met the technical milestone that was a condition to close the additional $100 million investment by VW Group. The milestone required Volkswagen to successfully test the latest generation of QuantumScape’s solid-state lithium-metal cells in their labs in Germany. This will be the second and final closing under the May 14, 2020 stock purchase agreement between VW and QuantumScape that provided for a total $200 million investment. (I missed this one last week).

Spinny, the India-based online used car marketplace, raised $65 million in its Series C financing round led by Silicon Valley-headquartered venture firm General Catalyst. Feroz Dewan’s Arena Holdings, Think Investments and existing investors Fundamentum Partnership — backed by tech veterans Nandan Nilekani and Sanjeev Aggarwal — and Elevation Capital participated as well.

Swyft, a company that helps retailers compete with Amazon by offering same-day delivery, raised $17.5 million in a Series A round co-led by Inovia Capital and Forerunner Ventures, with participation from Shopify and existing investors Golden Ventures and Trucks VC.

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery

Some interesting items this week.

Ride-hailing

Uber announced a $250 million stimulus to try to entice drivers back after the pandemic. As vaccinations increase, so do Uber bookings, but there are not enough drivers to meet demand after many stopped working over the last year. This stimulus will see existing, returning and new drivers receive bonuses.

Autonomous vehicles

Apple CEO Tim Cook hinted heavily at the autonomous future of its Apple car, during an interview on the “Sway” podcast with Kara Swisher.

Aurora CEO Chris Urmson, who is the new chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global AV Council, led a discussion with industry and government leaders about the benefits of self-driving trucking – safety, service, and sustainability – and how self-driving will change our workforce. Urmson later shared his views in a post on LinkedIn. Uber CEO and Aurora Board member Dara Khosrowshahi was the previous chair of this council.

Verizon and Honda announced a partnership on Thursday to test 5G and mobile edge computing to make driving safer. We’re a long way away from even having a viable 5G network, let alone cars that can operate on it. But eventually, they hope to apply this kind of tech to self-driving vehicles. Side note: This isn’t Verizon’s first 5G-meets-MEC-and-vehicle rodeo. The company has been testing at Mcity since 2019. Last November, Renovo Auto (which Verizon is backing) released a video demonstrating how 5G and MEC coupled with its automotive data platform indexes and filters Advanced Driver Assistance System vehicle-data in near-real time. The tests were also conducted at Mcity. 

Electric vehicles

GM is adding an electric Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck to its lineup, as the automaker pushes to deliver more than 1 million electric vehicles globally by 2025. The Chevrolet Silverado electric full-size pickup will be based on the automaker’s Ultium battery platform and GM estimates the range will be more than 400 miles on a full charge. GM is targeting both the consumer and commercial market with this new electric pickup.

Polestar set a “moonshot goal” to create the first climate-neutral car by 2030. It’s a goal that won’t achieved by widely practiced offsetting measures, such as planting trees. Instead, Polestar aims to rethink every piece of the supply chain, from materials sourcing through to manufacturing, and even by making the vehicle more energy efficient.

Wildcat Discovery Technologies, a technology company developing new battery materials, has gained Peter Lamp, general manager of the battery cell technology group at BMW AG, as a board member.

eVTOLs

Wisk Aero, the air mobility company borne out of a joint venture between Kitty Hawk and Boeing, filed a lawsuit against Archer Aviation alleging patent infringement and trade secret misappropriation.

In-car tech

GM confirmed that its idling more plants and extending shutdowns at other facilities in North America due to a continued shortage of semiconductor chips that are used to control myriad operations in vehicles, including the infotainment, power steering and brake systems. Eight assembly plants are affected by the temporary closures.

Of course, GM is hardly the only automaker to be impacted by the global chip shortage. Competitor Ford has also had to temporarily pause production at some factories, while other automakers such as Subaru and Stellantis (the automaker formed by the 2021 merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Groupe PSA).

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

The TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event will be virtual again. But that hasn’t stopped us from putting together a stellar list of participants. We just starting to announce who will be on our virtual stage June 9.

Here’s one biggie: we’re bringing Joby Aviation founder JoeBen Bevirt and famed investor and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman together on stage. If my recent interview with those two provides an indication of what’s to come, it should be eye opening.

Early Bird tickets to the show are now available — book today and save $100 before prices go up.

Bevirt and Hoffman will discuss building a startup — and keeping it secret while raising funds — the future of flight and, of course, SPACs. If you recall, Joby announced in February that it would become a publicly traded company through a merger with Reinvent Technology Partners, a special purpose acquisition company formed by Hoffman and Zynga founder Mark Pincus.

“We approach it (SPACs) as venture capital at scale,” Hoffman told TechCrunch in a February interview. So it’s not a ‘this-year thing,’ it’s a next three years, next five years, next 10 years.”

And yes, Hoffman believes SPACs are here to stay. Although we plan to check in on his stance in June. “I think that it’s valuable to the market and valuable to society to have multiple, different paths by which companies can go public,” Hoffman said.

Other guests to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, includes investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, as well as Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #bird, #dott, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #gm, #grab, #joby-aviation, #lime, #reid-hoffman, #tc, #tier, #transportation, #voi, #vw-group

Lime launches app-less rides and no fee reservations to get more people riding

Lime is rolling out several new features, including the ability to rent electric scooters without downloading the app, in an effort to attract more riders. 

The micromobility company announced Wednesday a series of product features that aims to remove barriers to entry for new users, while increasing accessibility to its vehicles. The new features include free vehicle reservations up to 10 minutes, closest vehicle recommendations and the option to view the app in dark mode.

The app-less experience is already live in more than half of Lime’s 130 markets, where developers have been monitoring and analyzing its usage. This feature is only available on e-scooters. The free vehicle reservations and recommendations features can be used when renting Lime’s e-scooters and e-bikes — and across every market and language, according to Lime developers.  

“We use rider feedback to build out the app or any features associated with it,” senior product manager Vijay Murali told TechCrunch. App store reviews, customer service tickets complaining about a feature or a lack of it, customer surveys and research sessions with riders from around the world all inform the direction developers take with new features. In the case of these latest updates, Murali said the team identified three goals their customers were trying to accomplish. 

“The first is that many users are ready to try this new form of transport, but they don’t want to download the app and make the commitment,” said Murali. “The second is a price concern for those who ride with us frequently, and the third is about making it easier, especially in a big city, to find the closest vehicle to you.”

Image Credits: Lime

Now when a customer open the apps, they’ll be directed towards the nearest vehicle and offered the option of reserving it for free, which Murali said streamlines the process of just jumping on a scooter and helps make riding a daily habit.

The app-less riding feature is geared towards those who are new to micromobility, might not have any space on their phones to download the app or are on an expensive international data plan.

To use the feature, customers need to scanning a QR code with their camera app which connects to Apple’s App Clips or Android’s Instant App features. Customers can then confirm the ride and use Apple Pay or Google Pay to start riding. Technically, users are actually downloading a sliver of the app — only 10 megabytes versus 100 megabytes for the full app, and only for eight hours. To the average rider, it just appears as if they’re opening a file or app on their phone, which is a lot quicker than downloading the app, creating an account, adding a payment method and reading a tutorial, which takes about five minutes rather than 30 seconds.

This feature will result in less Lime app downloads, and thus less user data. But Lime says it is more interested in hard sales at the moment. 

“We also see a relatively high download conversion rate,” said another senior product manager, Zach Kahn. “The reduction in friction and needing to choose a payment method or vehicle drastically increases that conversion and makes up a meaningful percentage of our first trips now.” 

Kahn declined to provide conversion rates for those who were introduced to Lime via app-less rides. Murali also noted that more riders in test cities began reserving vehicles when Lime removed the cost. Previously, adoption was low at around 3%.  

“It’s all about ensuring people from different segments of society, in particular underserved areas, have less friction to access Lime vehicles,” said Murali. “In an underserved community, how much a scooter costs to ride is top of mind, so removing these unnecessary reservation fees makes them more likely to ride now.”

Lime, which is backed by Uber and Alphabet, is one of the companies in the running for the coveted New York City pilot e-scooter program in the Bronx, a borough with many low-income communities and transit deserts. Each company has its own unique selling points. Superpedestrian, for example, chooses to err on the side of first-class safety features and geofencing compliance. But Murali says Lime’s leg up comes in its sheer size and ability to quickly execute new features.  

“We don’t just say we put riders first, but we figure out exactly how to do it, and then we make those features and improvements in the app happen,” said Murali. “That’s what differentiates us; how much meaningful progress we are making, at what scale and how fast. We have this new tech in the form of App Clips, for example, and we tested it fast, brought a product to market and now we’re rolling it out in every market we can.”

In a statement, Lime claims to be the first micromobility company to introduce app-less riding, however Apple appears to have demoed App Clips by renting a scooter from Spin, which also responded to New York’s RFP. A spokesperson from Spin said the company is working with Apple to bring the App Clip experience to its e-scooters in the future.

#e-bikes, #e-scooters, #lime, #micromobility, #spin, #superpedestrian, #transportation

Lime unveils new ebike as part of $50 million investment to expand to more 25 cities

Lime said Monday it has allocated $50 million towards its bike-share operation, an investment that has been used to develop a new ebike and will fund its expansion this year to another 25 cities in North America, Europe, and Australia and New Zealand. 

If the company hits its goal, Lime’s bike-share service will be operational in 50 cities globally by the end of 2021.

The latest generation e-bike, known internally as 6.0, has a swappable battery that is interchangeable with Lime’s newest scooter. Additional upgrades to the e-bike include increased motor power, a phone holder, a new handlebar display, an electric lock that replaces the former generation’s cable lock and an automatic two-speed transmission. The new bikes are expected to launch and scale this summer. 

The hardware upgrade builds off of the 5.8, a bike developed by Jump that was supposed to be deployed in 2020. That never happened at scale because Uber, which owned Jump, offloaded the unit to Lime as part of a complex $170 million investment round announced in May.

“Jump made great hardware,” Lime President Joe Kraus said in a recent interview. “And we made some further improvements on top with the new bike.”

The hardware upgrades and expansion were funded from its own operational funds, not new financing from outside investors, Kraus said. The funding was possible as a result of Lime achieving its first full quarter of profitability in 2020, according to the company.

“We have figured out how to be profitable and we are funding this,” Kraus said.

Lime not only added a new motor to the bike, it moved its location in an aim to make it easier to handle at low speeds and enough power to climb hills, Kraus said. The swappable battery was perhaps its most important upgrade directly tied to its drive towards profitability, Kraus added.

“When our operations teams is roaming around the city, they take can care of bikes and the scooter fleet, which allows us to both operate profitably and continue to have affordable pricing,” he added.

Lime’s investment in its ebike operation comes a month after it announced plans to add electric mopeds to its micromobility platform as the startup aims to own the spectrum of inner city travel from jaunts to the corner store to longer distance trips up to five miles. Lime is launching the effort by deploying 600 electric mopeds on its platform this spring in Washington D.C. The company is also working with officials to pilot the mopeds in Paris. Eventually, the mopeds will be offered in a “handful of cities” over the next several months.

“This idea of how to service more trips five miles within a city is part of why we continue to do multi modality,” Kraus said. “When we add a new modality like bikes into a scooter city, or when we add scooters to a bike city both modalities go up in usage.”

#lime, #transportation

The Station: Archer Aviation’s two big scores, a boost for ebikes and how Uber defines adjusted EBITDA

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

Hi friends and new readers, welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

There is quite a bit to get to this week, so let’s charge forward.

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 station scooter1a

The spike in electric bike sales was one of the rosier outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, new legislation introduced this past week by U.S. representatives Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) could push sales even higher. The Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment (E-BIKE) Act proposes creating a consumer tax credit that would cover 30% of the cost of an electric bicycle up to a $1,500 credit. The proposed bill applies to new electric bicycles that cost less than $8,000 and is fully refundable, allowing lower-income workers to claim the credit, according to Panetta’s announcement.

Individuals can use the credit once every three years, or twice for a joint-return couple buying two electric bicycles. The bill also mandates that the IRS provide a report after two years to help lawmakers understand how the credit is being distributed across income tax brackets. There is an existing tax credit for two-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles. However, that tax credit only applies to motorcycles that travel at least 45 miles per hour, not bicycles.

While support from bicycle advocacy groups have poured in (my inbox overflowth), it’s unclear if the Ebike Act will gain enough support within Congress to actually become law. PeopleForBikes, one of several groups that supports the legislation, noted that studies show a 15% increase in electric bicycle mode share in the United States will cause carbon emissions to fall 11%.

There is at least one other effort to deliver tax benefits to bicyclists. Blumenauer is also working to reinstate the bicycle commuter tax benefit, which was axed in 2018 under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The original benefit let employers reimburse workers up to $20 per month for bicycle commuting expenses. Blumenauer introduced last month the Bicycle Commuter Act of 2021, which would extend benefits to commuters who use e-bikes, bike share and more traditional bicycles.

Meanwhile, on the micromobbin’ SPAC front …

Helbiz, the micromobility startup that offers e-scooters, e-bicycles and e-mopeds and operates across Europe and in several U.S. cities, announced it will merge with a special purpose acquisition company to become a publicly listed company. The deal with GreenVision Acquisition Corp. is expected to close in the second quarter. The combined entity, which will be named Helbiz Inc. and listed on the Nasdaq exchange under HLBZ, will have a valuation of $408 million.

Notably, the company is going to use capital from this deal to expand into “cloud” or “ghost” kitchens as part of a move into food delivery.

Taking a tour of the companies’ SEC filings, it looks like that valuation is based off of the more than $4 million in revenue that Helbiz generated in 2020. About 96% of that revenue came from its mobility rentals and the remaining 4% from advertising through its app and at charging docks. Helbiz is projecting that by 2025 (just four years from now) it will have $449 million in revenue from its mobility and advertising streams as well as “new verticals.” Presumably, this is the ghost kitchens.

I’ll be curious to see if other micromobility SPACs follow Helbiz’ announcement and if this activity helps push up valuations of rivals like Lime. (You might recall that last May Lime raised $170 million at a reduced valuation of $510 million. However, Lime CEO Wayne Ting has more recently painted a more positive financial picture of the company.)

I’ve also heard plenty of SPAC rumors swirling around Bird. But what about the others?

Deal of the week

money the station

Electric aircraft startup Archer Aviation landed two deals this past week that helped it earn “deal of the week” status. The company, which is targeting the urban air mobility market, reached an agreement to merge with special purpose acquisition company Atlas Crest Investment Corp. for an equity valuation of $3.8 billion.

It also snagged United Airlines as a customer and an investor. United placed an order for $1 billion of Archer’s aircraft and has the option to buy an additional $500 million of aircraft, according to Archer.

On the SPAC side of things, Archer said it expected to receive $1.1 billion of gross proceeds, including $600 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, from investors such as United Airlines, Stellantis and the venture arm of Exor, Baron Capital Group, the Federated Hermes Kaufmann Funds, Mubadala Capital, Putnam Investments and Access Industries. Ken Moelis and affiliates, along with Marc Lore, who is one of Archer’s primary and initial backers, are investing $30 million in the PIPE.

The combined company will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange with ticker symbol “ACHR.”

Archer has yet to mass produce its electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, which is designed to travel up to 60 miles on a single charge at speeds of 150 miles per hour. The company has said it plans to unveil its full-scale eVTOL later this year and is aiming to begin volume manufacturing in 2023.

Other deals that got my attention …

BusUp, the bus commuter platform startup raised $6 million in a Series A round led by Latin American mobility investment firm Proeza Ventures. Autotech Ventures and IESE’s Business School venture fund Finaves V also participated. BusUp has focused on the Europe and LatAm markets. This new funding will be used to expand operations in the United States and consolidate other existing markets in response to growing interest in employer-provided commuter benefits and mobility services. You might recall that just last week, I wrote about a similar company called Hip.

Chowbotics, a Bay Area-based robotics best known for its salad-making robot, Sally, is about to be gobbled up by delivery service Doordash. Terms of the deal aren’t known yet. Chowbotics has raised around $21 million to date, including an $11 million round back in 2018. The company’s vending machine-style salad bar robot was already well-positioned for the pandemic, removing a human element from the food preparation process — not to mention the fact that salad bars and buffets tend to be open air affairs. In October, the startup added a contactless feature to the robot, letting users order ahead of time, via app, per TechCrunch hardware editor Brian Heater.

Joby Aviation is in talks to go public in a SPAC deal that would value the electric plane manufacturer at nearly $5.7 billion, the Financial Times reported. You might recall that Joby recently picked up Uber’s air taxi unit Elevate. Last year, the company raised $590 million from investors in a round led by Toyota.

Kargo, a smart loading dock platform startup founded in late 2019, raised $6 million in seed money from Founders Fund, Accomplice, Sozo Ventures and other unnamed investors. Kargo is a hardware and software company. Kargo sells sensor towers, which are mounted to a loading dock. The computer vision sensor is able to automatically identify and verify all incoming and outgoing freight in real time. The accompanying software platform, which Kargo offers as a subscription, takes in all of that data. Customers use the platform to take a macro or micro view of its supply chain.

Hyzon Motors, a hydrogen fuel cell startup focused on commercial vehicles, reached an agreement to go public via a merger with special purpose acquisition company Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corporation at a $2.7 billion valuation.

Instabox, the Sweden-based startup that focuses on last-mile deliveries for e-commerce, raised $90 million in a Series B funding round was led by EQT Ventures, Sifted reported.

Plus.ai, the self-driving truck technology startup that operates in China and the United States, raised $200 million in a round led by new investors Guotai Junan International, CPE and Wanxiang International Investment. Existing investors including FTA also participated. The company plans to use the new funds to “accelerate the global commercialization and deployment of its automated trucking system.” The company is developing a sales and support network to help fleets integrate the Plus automated trucking system into their daily operations. Plus will also scale deployments in the U.S. and China, and expand internationally to Europe and other parts of Asia, CEO and co-founder David Liu told me in a recent interview. I may run snippets of our chat in next week’s newsletter so stay tuned.

Siemens is preparing to sell off Intelligent Traffic Systems, its traffic light technology and equipment unit, Reuters reported. The company is targeting a valuation of between $604 million and $725 million.

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

Veoneer reported during its earnings call February 3 that it had lost an existing lidar production contract with an autonomous vehicle customer. Veoneer indicated that this unknown OEM customer had chosen a different path for it lidar core technology. This is actually a loss for Velodyne as well since Veoneer announced back in 2019 that it was leveraging the lidar company’s technology for a contract to supply the sensor to this same unnamed AV customer.

Veoneer CEO Jan Carlson said during the call that volumes from this OEM customer have decreased over time and emphasized it would not affect its order book. “But we are seeing a big shift in Lidar technologies overall over-time,” Carlson said.” Our strategy, as I mentioned before is to be a strong integrator. We provide, of course, experience in cyber-security. We provide automotive-grade experience. We can provide functional safety to start-up companies that have a tech know-how, but not really or into the automotive environment.”

So who is this AV customer? Emmanuel Rosner, over at Deutsche Bank, said his educated guess is Ford(Argo). His explanation: “Ford has been an early investor in Velodyne, and it stands to reason it had placed a contract to use Velodyne sensors in its Argo robo-taxis, but it has now canceled the order. It’s unclear whether Argo will now be using another LiDAR supplier, or if it will use its own sensors developed in-house through Argo’s acquisition of Princeton Lightwave.”

My own sources confirm that this is indeed Ford/Argo. It seems that the intention was to use Velodyne for its autonomous vehicles, but that was scrapped in large part because Argo made faster progress on its own in-house lidar from Princeton Lightwave.

Update: This newsletter ran over the weekend. Ford reported via an SEC regulatory filing that it no longer held any shares of Velodyne. Apparently it sold off its remaining stake by the end of 2020. Ford had held almost 13.1 million shares — a value of about $244 million — in Velodyne at the close of the third quarter of 2020.

Speaking of Argo, I missed an interesting tweet from the company in early February that explains it has expanded its operating domain to include highways. This means that Argo is now testing and operating in urban and suburban areas as well as highway environments. That highway piece is important for any aspiring robotaxi as airports are a common drop off and pick up point for today’s ride-hailing customers (ok, well at least in pre-COVID times).

Notable reads and other tidbits

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A bunch of other transportation-related news happened, so let’s dig in.

Automotive tech

Analyst firm LMC said that the semiconductor shortage cost the auto industry at least 450,000 units of lost production in January and February, an issue that will likely continue through the first half of the year, Automotive News reported. But there might be some good news in LMC’s report.

LMC forecasts that vehicle production will fall 10% globally in the first quarter from 2019 figures. That means an overall loss of 1.1 million units with 600,000 to 700,000 due to the chip shortage and the remainder from renewed COVID-19 lockdowns.

Luminar, the lidar startup that recently became a publicly traded company via a SPAC, has added Dr. Mary Lou Jepsen and Katharine A. Martin to its board of directors. Jepsen is the CEO, founder and Chairman of Openwater, a company focused on replacing the functionality of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). She’s also currently serves on the board of Lear Corporation. Martin is the chair of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati’s board of directors and a partner in the firm’s Palo Alto office. Jepsen and Martin will join existing board members Austin Russell (founder and CEO), Alec Gores, Matthew Simoncini, Scott McGregor, and Ben Kortlang.

Autonomous vehicles

Aurora reached a deal with Toyota and auto-parts supplier Denso to develop and test vehicles equipped with the self-driving startup’s technology, beginning with a fleet of Toyota Sienna minivans. Engineering teams from Aurora and Toyota will work together to design and build the self-driving Sienna minivans with an aim to start testing a fleet by the end of 2021, according to the companies.

Lest you forget, Aurora acquired in December Uber Advanced Technologies Group, the self-driving vehicle unit that spun out from Uber in 2019 after raising $1 billion in funding from Toyota, Denso and SoftBank’s Vision Fund. Aurora’s acquisition, which closed January 20, was actually a pretty complex deal in which Uber handed over its equity in ATG and invested $400 million into Aurora. Uber now holds a 26% stake in the combined company. Toyota also has a minority stake in Aurora as a result of the acquisition.

Aurora co-founder and chief product officer Sterling Anderson emphasized that this is a new partnership and not just an extension of Toyota’s agreement with Uber ATG. However, there are a lot of similarities to an agreement reached in 2018 between Toyota and Uber to bring an on-demand autonomous ride-hailing service to market. Under that deal, which included a $500 million investment by Toyota, the companies agreed to integrate Uber ATG’s self-driving technology into the Sienna minivans for use in Uber’s ride-hailing network. The vehicles later could be owned and operated by third-party fleet managers, Toyota and Uber ATG said at the time.

Hyundai Motor Group showed off a new version of its “walking car” robot concept that can use its wheels to roll along a path or stand up and navigate tougher terrain on its legs. This time, the concept is designed to carry cargo and is small enough to be carried by a drone. The TIGER robot — short for transforming intelligent ground excursion robot — is the first “uncrewed” ultimate mobility vehicle (UMV) concept to come out of New Horizons Studio, the Mountain View, California facility that is home to Hyundai Motor Group’s UMV development.

While concepts oftentimes never become a reality, New Horizons Studio head John Suh told me that his aim is to bring Tiger to life “as soon as possible,” adding that it would likely be a five-year process. Suh said the team will spend the next two years focused on solving some core technical problems to establish a baseline design. In 2023 and 2024, the team will get to the beta-product stage and advanced testing will begin before finally becoming a product customers can buy.

Delivery

Cajoo, a new French startup that raised a $7.3 million (€6 million) funding round, launched in Paris this week. The company’s pitch: to make it easier to order groceries from your phone and receive them 15 minutes later. The company was founded by CEO Henri Capoul, who previously was at Bolt, along with Guillaume Luscan and Jeremy Gotteland. As Techcrunch’s Romain Dillet reported, Cajoo wants to differentiate itself with a full-stack approach. The startup operates its own micro-fulfillment centers. It has its own inventory of products. It manages the fleet of delivery people as much as possible. And, of course, it sells directly to customers.

Electric

Audi revealed the 2022 e-tron Quattro GT and its higher-performing sibling the RS e-tron GT — flagships of the German automaker’s growing electric vehicle portfolio and its first departure from the crossovers and SUVs that have so far dominated the lineup.

Royal Dutch Shell Group laid out a five-pillar plan that outlines how it will survive in a zero-emission, climate conscious world. The plan includes installing 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, the continued development of hydrogen and natural gas assets while slashing oil production by 1% to 2% per year, a greater emphasis on lubricants, chemicals and biofuels, expanding its renewable energy generation portfolio and carbon offsets and investing in carbon capture and storage. As TechCrunch climate editor Jon Shieber noted, Shell’s plan to rollout 500,000 EV charger in just four years is the latest sign of an EV charging infrastructure boom that has prompted investors to pour cash into the industry and inspired a few companies to become public companies in search of the capital needed to meet demand.

Tesla has been in talks with a group of Chinese authorities, including the country’s top market regulator, cyberspace watchdog and transportation authority, after consumers complained about acceleration irregularities, battery fires, software upgrade failures and other vehicle problems, according to a government notice posted late Monday.

Tesla said on microblogging platform Weibo that it “sincerely accepts the government departments’ guidance” and will “strictly comply with Chinese laws.” It will also work to strengthen its “internal operational structure and workflow” under the direction of the regulators in order to ensure safety and consumer rights. It’s hard not to notice the differences in Tesla’s tone between its dealings with China and the United States.

Toyota Motor North America said it will bring three new electrified vehicles to the U.S. market, as the automaker seeks to win over customers by offering a variety of lower emission and zero-emission cars and SUVs. Two of the new vehicles will be all electric and one will be a plug-in hybrid, the company said Wednesday. Sales of the vehicles are expected to being in 2022.

Flight

Aerion, which has been working on commercial supersonic flight for nearly a decade, signed a new partnership with NASA on supersonic point-to-point travel. The new collaboration comes via the Space Act Agreement, which allows NASA to enlist the aid of private companies to help it achieve its various goals.

Ride-hailing

Uber and Lyft lost a lot of money in 2020. As TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm noted this week (sub required), that’s not a surprise, considering the COVID-19 headwinds that caused many ride-hailing markets to freeze as demand fell. Wilhelm unpacked both companies’ full-year earnings, which were reported this past week. Uber’s revenue fell from $13 billion in 2019 to $11.1 billion in 2020. Lyft’s fell from $3.6 billion in 2019 to a far-smaller $2.4 billion in 2020.

Using normal accounting rules (which we like here), Uber lost $6.77 billion in 2020, an improvement from its 2019 loss of $8.51 billion. However, if you lean on Uber’s definition of adjusted EBITDA, its 2019 and 2020 losses fall to $2.73 billion and $2.53 billion, respectively.

So what is this magic wand Uber is waving to make billions of dollars worth of red ink go away? Answer: an adjusted EBITDA definition with 12 different categories of exclusion. Hey-o!

Wilhelm continues … if investors get what Uber promises, they will get an unprofitable company at the end of 2021, albeit one that, if you strip out a dozen categories of expense, is no longer running in the red. This, from a company worth north of $112 billion, feels like a very small promise.

And yet Uber shares have quadrupled from their pandemic lows, during which they fell under the $15 mark. Today Uber is worth more than $60 per share, despite shrinking last year and projecting years of losses (real), and possibly some (fake) profits later in the year. Wild.

Check out the rest of his piece at Extra Crunch, which reveals some of the good news that came out of Uber’s earnings as well as a dive into Lyft’s results.

#archer-aviation, #argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #electric-vehicles,