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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Micromobbin’

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

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

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

Last-mile deliveries

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

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

An Indian empire arises

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

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

Big box bike sales

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

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

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

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

National Drive Electric Week (sans cars)

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

Van Moof’s big raise

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

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

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

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other deals that got my attention this week …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policy corner

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

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

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

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

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

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable news and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

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

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

Electric vehicles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gig economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In-car tech

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

Misc. stuff

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

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

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

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

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

Massachussetts AG greenlights Uber, Lyft-backed gig worker ballot initiative

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey gave a coalition of app-based service providers like Uber and Lyft the go-ahead to start collecting signatures needed to put a proposed ballot measure before voters that would define drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.

Backers of the initiative, which is essentially a MA version of Proposition 22, would need to gather tens of thousands of signatures for the measure to make it to the November 2022 ballot. Despite the fact that last year Healey filed a lawsuit that challenged Uber and Lyft’s classifications of drivers as contractors who are therefore not entitled to benefits like sick leave, overtime or minimum wage, on Wednesday, the AG certified the current measure met constitutional requirements.

The news comes nearly two weeks after a superior court judged ruled California’s Prop 22, which was passed in 2020, unconstitutional. The union-backed Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights urged Healey to reject the measure under the same grounds, and told Reuters that it is considering suing to challenge the measure.

The Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, the coalition of members including Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart, filed the petition for this ballot initiative last month, a move that Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he thinks is “the right move.” The proposed initiative would also allow drivers to earn a minimum of $18 per hour in 2023 before tips and provide those who work for at least 15 hours per week with healthcare stipends. Drivers would also be guaranteed at least 26 cents per mile to cover vehicle upkeep and gas.

The coalition has until December 1 to collect and file 80,239 signatures from voters. If they miss that deadline, they can gather an additional 13,374 signatures by July 6, 2022 to get the initiative on the ballot.

#doordash, #gig-workers, #independent-contractors, #instacart, #lawsuit, #lyft, #massachusetts-attorney-general-maura-healey, #massachussetts, #prop-22, #transportation, #uber

A California judge just struck down Prop 22: Now what?

Every time you turn around, someone new is winning the war in California around organizing workers in the sharing economy.

Labor struck first when California legislators passed Assembly Bill 5, requiring all independent contractors working for gig economy companies to be reclassified as employees. That was expected to set off a chain reaction in state legislatures nationwide, until two things happened.

First, COVID-19 hit and quickly became all-encompassing, making it virtually impossible for lawmakers and regulators to focus on anything but surviving the pandemic. Second, Uber, Lyft, Instacart and others funded and voters approved Prop 22 in California, striking down AB-5 and returning sharing economy workers to independent contractor status.

On the same day that Prop 22 passed, Democrats captured both chambers of Congress in Washington, but their margins were so slim (50-50 in the Senate and a nine-vote majority in the House), that federal legislative action on the issue was near impossible. Across the country, politicians read the tea leaves of Prop 22 and decided to mainly stay away. That kept the issue at bay during the 2021 state legislative sessions.

But the tide started to turn again this summer. First, U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) introduced the PRO Act in February 2021, stating that workers would be reclassified using an ABC test, in addition to rolling back right-to-work laws in states and establishing monetary penalties for companies and executives who violate workers’ rights.

The bill handily passed the House in March, but has since stalled in the Senate, despite receiving a hearing and energetic support by high-profile senators including Bernie Sanders and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The Biden administration’s appointees to the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board are decidedly in favor of full-time-worker status. And now, a California Superior Court judge has ruled Prop 22 unconstitutional, saying it violates the right of the state legislature to pass future laws around worker safety and status.

The sharing economy companies are expected to appeal, and the case could ultimately wind up before the California Supreme Court.

So now what? The courts will ultimately determine the status of sharing economy workers in California, but since the decision will be about the specific legal parameters of California’s referendum process, it won’t determine the issue elsewhere. And despite noise from Washington, Congress isn’t passing the PRO Act any time soon (Democrats may try to include it in the reconciliation for the $3.5 trillion American Families Plan, but the odds of its survival are low). That means the action returns to the states.

New York is the biggest battleground outside of California. Democrats have amassed a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, and New York lacks a referendum vehicle to overturn state law.

Sharing economy workers are the biggest organizing opportunity for private sector unions in decades, and labor will use all of its influence to pass worker classification reform in 2022.

However, Kathy Hochul, New York’s new governor, is a moderate, and state legislators recently abandoned a half-baked plan brokered by gig companies to safeguard independent contractor status, indicating a resolution on the issue will likely take time.

Illinois is fertile ground for worker reclassification, too, but the state remains a question mark.

There’s also a chance of movement in Massachusetts, where gig companies are making a play to establish a ballot initiative very similar to Prop 22. Legislators in Seattle and Pennsylvania have also signaled an interest in exploring the issue.

And just a few months after most state legislative sessions conclude next summer, we’ll hit the midterm elections, which could produce a Republican wave (especially in the House) that would yet again quash the chances of worker classification legislation passing anywhere.

In other words, this is going to ping back and forth for at least the next few years in the courts, in state legislatures, and in the halls of Congress and federal agencies. If you’re a sharing economy investor and you want this issue resolved once and for all, that peace of mind isn’t coming. And the market, rather than accepting that this will be an unresolved issue for the next few years, will probably overreact to each individual action, whether it’s a lower court ruling or a piece of legislation making its way through a state.

In reality, the answer is the same as it’s always been: trying to shoehorn sharing economy workers into one of two existing categories — 1099 or W-2 — doesn’t work. We still need to recognize that the inherent nature of work has changed over the last decade, and we need to recognize that both parties — the sharing economy companies and the unions — are only looking out for their own interests and coffers at the expense of what’s best for actual workers.

California is not going to resolve this issue. It’s just swung back and forth from one extreme to another. Congress is not going to resolve this issue because it almost never resolves anything.

So the game comes down to states like Illinois, New York and Massachusetts. It comes down to legislators and leaders trying to craft good public policy at the expense of their donors and supporters and Twitter followers — and then it comes down to their colleagues doing the same.

It means sacrificing politics for policy. That almost never happens. And it probably won’t happen here, either. So if you’re trying to game out where this issue is going, accept the uncertainty and expect that a thoughtful, smart resolution — locally or nationally — is unlikely. It’s a dissatisfying conclusion but, sadly, it epitomizes exactly where our politics stand today.

#bernie-sanders, #biden-administration, #california, #column, #congress, #government, #illinois, #labor, #lyft, #national-labor-relations-board, #new-york, #opinion, #policy, #sharing-economy, #tc, #uber, #washington

Why regulators love Nuro’s self-driving delivery vehicles

Nuro’s delivery autonomous vehicles (AVs) don’t have a human driver on board. The company’s founders Dave Ferguson (president) and Jiajun Zhu’s (CEO) vision of a driverless delivery vehicle sought to do away with a lot of the stuff that is essential for a normal car to have, like doors and airbags and even a steering wheel. They built an AV that spared no room in the narrow chassis for a driver’s seat, and had no need for an accelerator, windshield or brake pedals.

So when the company petitioned the U.S. government in 2018 for a minor exemption from rules requiring a rearview mirror, backup camera and a windshield, Nuro might have assumed the process wouldn’t be very arduous.

They were wrong.

If Nuro is to become the generation-defining company its founders desire, it will be due as much to innovation in regulation as advances in the technology it develops.

In a 2019 letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) “[wondered] about the description of pedestrian ‘crumple zones,’ and whether this may impact the vehicle’s crash-worthiness in the event of a vehicle-to-vehicle crash. Even in the absence of passengers, AAMVA has concerns about cargo ejection from the vehicle and how Nuro envisions protections from loose loads affecting the driving public.”

The National Society of Professional Engineers similarly complained that Nuro’s request lacked information about the detection of moving objects. “How would the R2X function if a small child darts onto the road from the passenger side of the vehicle as a school bus is approaching from the driver’s side?” it asked. It also recommended the petition be denied until Nuro could provide a more detailed cybersecurity plan against its bots being hacked or hijacked. (R2X is now referred to as R2)

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (now the Alliance Automotive Innovation), which represents most U.S. carmakers, wrote that the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) should not use Nuro’s kind of petition to “introduce new safety requirements for [AVs] that have not gone through the rigorous rule-making process.”

“What you can see is that many comments came from entrenched interests,” said David Estrada, Nuro’s chief legal and policy officer. “And that’s understandable. There are multibillion dollar industries that can be disrupted if autonomous vehicles become successful.”

To be fair, critical comments also came from nonprofit organizations genuinely concerned about unleashing robots on city streets. The Center for Auto Safety, an independent consumer group, thought that Nuro did not provide enough information on its development and testing, nor any meaningful comparison with the safety of similar, human-driven vehicles. “Indeed, the planned reliance on ‘early on-road tests … with human-manned professional safety drivers’ suggests that Nuro has limited confidence in R2X’s safe operation,” it wrote.

Nuro-R2-specs-infographic

Nuro’s R2 delivery autonomous vehicle. Image Credits: Nuro

Despite such concerns, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) granted Nuro the exemptions it sought in February last year. Up to 5,000 R2 vehicles could be produced for a limited period of two years and subject to Nuro reporting any incidents, without a windshield, rearview mirror or backup camera. Although only a small concession, it was the first — and so far, only — time the U.S. government had relaxed vehicle safety requirements for an AV.

Now Estrada and Nuro hope to use that momentum to chip away at a mountain of regulations that never envisaged vehicles controlled by on-board robots or distant humans, extending from the foothills of local and state government to the peaks of federal and international safety rules.

If Nuro is to become the generation-defining company its founders desire, it will be due as much to innovation in regulation as advances in the technology it develops.

Regulate for success

“I don’t think any of the credible, big AV players want this to be a free-for-all,” said Dave Ferguson, Nuro’s co-founder and president. “We need the confidence of a clear regulatory framework to invest the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars necessary to manufacture vehicles at scale. Otherwise, it’s really going to limit our ability to deploy.”

#alliance-of-automobile-manufacturers, #auto-safety, #automation, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #av, #california, #dave-ferguson, #department-of-defense, #ec-1, #extra-crunch, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #google, #government, #lyft, #national-highway-traffic-safety-administration, #national-science-foundation, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #startups, #transport, #transportation, #u-s-department-of-transportation, #united-states

Motional to begin testing autonomous vehicles in LA as part of California expansion plan

Motional, the autonomous vehicle company born out of a $4 billion joint venture with Aptiv and Hyundai, is expanding its presence in California by opening a new operations facility in Los Angeles to support testing on public roads, hiring more engineers and adding an office in Silicon Valley.

The investment into the area follows a hiring spree that has pushed Motional’s total headcount to more than 1,000 people, an expansion into Seoul and its announcement last December to launch fully driverless robotaxi services in major U.S. cities in 2023 using the Lyft ride-hailing network.

While Motional declined to disclose its investment into the California expansion, the company is clearly putting its capital to work with plans to hire dozens of people and scale up operations in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Motional has had an office in Los Angeles since 2016. The LA office is where some of the company’s machine learning and hardware engineers are based. As part of its expansion plan, Motional has moved the team into a larger location in Santa Monica near the Santa Monica Pier.

Mortional is also opening a new operations facility located a few miles away and plans to more than double the number of employees based in Los Angeles to more than 100 people. The operations facility will support Motional’s plans to begin mapping roads and eventually testing its autonomous vehicles on public roads. Testing routes will initially be centered in and around the Santa Monica area, near its office and operations facility.

Motional said it will use the all-electric Hyundai IONIQ 5, the vehicle that will be the cornerstone of its eventual commercial robotaxi service, in its testing there. The Hyundai IONIQ 5, which was revealed in February 2021 with a consumer release date expected later this year, will be fully integrated with Motional’s driverless system. The vehicles will be equipped with the hardware and software needed for Level 4 autonomous driving capabilities such as lidar, radar and cameras. Level 4, is a designation by SAE, that means the vehicle will handle all driving operations in certain conditions and environments.

For now, the testing will involve autonomous vehicles with a safety driver behind the wheel. The company does not yet have a permit in the state to test its AVs without a human operator behind the wheel. That permit issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles,

This is first time the company has tested on public roads in Los Angeles. Motional already tests its AVs in Boston, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Singapore.

Motional’s President and CEO Karl Iagnemma described this as a “doubling down” of its West Coast footprint. “This expansion is the latest in our growth trajectory and will position Motional with the talent, testing capabilities, and R&D resources we need to deliver on our commercialization roadmap, Iagnemma said, adding that Los Angeles has long been an important part of its global operations.

Motional has also opened an office in Milpitas, a Silicon Valley town located in the southern section of the San Francisco Bay. The company’s compute design team will be based out of this office, Motional said in its announcement.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicle, #california, #lyft, #motional, #robotaxi, #tc, #transportation

Gig companies take worker classification fight to Massachusetts through ballot initiative

A coalition of app-based ride-hailing and on-demand delivery companies including Lyft, Uber, Doordash and Instacart have filed a petition for a ballot initiative in Massachusetts that would keep gig economy workers classified as independent contractors as the industry takes a fight it won in California on the road.

The ballot measure proposed by the Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work comes nearly a year after California voters approved a similar measure known as Proposition 22 that pitted labor rights advocates against gig economy companies in a costly multimillion battle.

Lyft, Uber and other members of the coalition, which also includes several local chambers of commerce in the state, said Tuesday they want the ballot question included in the November 2022 election. The question has to pass a legal review and receive enough signatures from voters for it to be included on the ballot.

“While our priority is to find a legislative solution in Massachusetts, this part of our continued efforts to advocate what the vast majority of drivers want — a flexible earning opportunity that our platform provides plus new benefits,” Lyft co-founder John Zimmer said during Lyft’s earnings call Tuesday. ” While we’re pursuing the ballot option, we’re also closely engaged with the Massachusetts State Legislature and are continuing to work with them on a potential legislative solution.”

The coalition said the proposed ballot question would grant app-based ride-hail and delivery workers new benefits such as healthcare stipends while keeping them classified as independent contractors.

Among the provisions that the coalition touted would be an earnings floor equal to 120% of the Massachusetts minimum wage ($18 per hour in 2023 from app-based platforms, before customer tips) and healthcare stipends for drivers who work at least 15 hours per week. Drivers would still keep all of their tips and be guaranteed at least $0.26 per mile to cover vehicle upkeep and gas, according to the coalition.

Labor activists are already pushing back. The Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights, a group composed of a variety of organizations including the NAACP New England Area Conference, the Union of Minority Neighborhoods and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Coalition, said Tuesday the ballot measure contains problematic language that will hurt workers.

The group argued there are extensive loopholes that create a subminimum wage for app-based workers and that few qualify for healthcare. It also noted that the measure would remove anti-discrimination protections, eliminates workers’ compensation rules and allows companies to cheat the state unemployment system of hundreds of millions.

While Uber, Lyft and the broader coalition lobbies for either a ballot measure or legislation, it also faces a lawsuit filed last year by the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey who has asked the court to rule that Uber and Lyft drivers are employees under Massachusetts Wage and Hour Laws.

The AG’s Office alleges in its complaint that Uber and Lyft are unable to meet a three-part test under state law that would allow them to classify drivers as independent contractors. To qualify as an independent contractor the worker must be free from a company’s direction and control, perform services outside the usual course of the business and does similar work on their own.

Uber has been signaling since last year that it planned to push for laws similar to the Proposition 22 measure. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in November 2020 during an earnings call with analysts that the company will “more loudly advocate for laws like Prop 22.” He later added that it will be a priority of the company “to work with governments across the U.S. and the world to make this a reality.”

#automotive, #doordash, #gig-economy, #lyft, #transportation, #uber

Lyft reaches adjusted profitability milestone despite continuing net losses

Today after the bell, U.S. ride-hailing company Lyft reported its second quarter financial performance. In aggregate the company’s performance was a rebound from the year-ago second quarter, which was heavily impacted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns in the United States.

Lyft also managed to produce positive adjusted EBITDA in the quarter, a profit metric favored by technology upstarts that have yet to generate net income, a stricter method of calculating profitability. Adjusted EBITDA for the second quarter was $23.8 million.

The company’s adjusted EBITDA reached a nadir in Q2 2020, when it totaled -$280 million. Since then Lyft has posted successive gains to adjusted EBITDA in every quarter. The company’s adjusted EBITDA margin came to 3% in its most recent quarter. After promising investors that adjusted profits would come, Lyft delivered.

Shares of Lyft are up nearly 7% in after-hours trading following the company’s financial report.

Lyft reported revenue of $765 million in the second quarter, more than double the $339.3 million million it brought in during the same period last year. While that is remarkable, remember last year at this time the economy and ride-hailing were getting pummeled by the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, we expected this.

Importantly, Lyft’s Q2 revenue grew 25.6% over last quarter’s of $609 million. That means that despite rising case counts in the United States thanks to the Delta COVID-19 variant, Lyft still managed to grow.

The company said it had 17.1 million active riders in the second quarter, up 97% from the 8.68 million million riders it had on its network in the same period last year. In the first quarter Lyft said it had 13.49 million active riders in the first quarter. The company also saw more revenue per active user in the second quarter ($44.63) than it did in the year-ago Q2 ($39.06). The company’s revenue per active rider metric slipped slightly from its Q1 2021 result of $45.13.

Lyft’s growth bested street expectations, which anticipated revenues of $696.2 million, per Yahoo Finance data. Despite this growth, Lyft is still losing money when all costs are counted. Lyft reported a net loss of $251.9 million in the second quarter, a 42% improvement from the $437.1 million it lost in the same period last year, but still a steeply negative figure.

The company said that net loss for the second quarter includes $207.8 million of stock-based compensation and related payroll tax expenses, and the $20.4 million expense related to the previously disclosed agreement to reinsure certain legacy auto insurance liabilities.

In the second quarter, Lyft’s aggregate spend on cost of revenue related expenses rose, though that was to be expected given how sharply its revenues themselves expanded compared to the year-ago period. The company also managed to curtail G&A costs, and its “operations and support” line item. However, R&D costs and S&M expenses both expanded compared to the year-ago quarter.

Finally on numbers, what about cash? Despite managing to generate positive adjusted EBITDA in the last three months, Lyft operations consumed $37.5 million in cash during the quarter. Lyft’s operations have not generated positive cash flow since Q3 2019. But don’t worry that Lyft is about to run out of funds — it has more than $2 billion in cash to support its growth.

There are signs that Lyft’s business is maturing into something more profitable than it once was. The company’s contribution margin, a non-GAAP figure that is used to indicate profitability of its ride-hailing model sans corporate costs, rose to 59.1% in the second quarter, an all-time record result. In the year-ago period the metric fell to 34.6%, its worst result since Q1 2017.

Lest we all forget, Lyft is now free of its costly autonomous vehicle technology program called Level 5. Lyft sold Level 5 to Toyota’s Woven Planet Holdings.

That doesn’t mean the company isn’t interested in getting into the robotaxi game.

Last month, Lyft announced a partnership with Argo AI and Ford to launch at least 1,000 self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network in a number of cities over the next five years, starting with Miami and Austin. The first Ford self-driving vehicles, which are equipped with Argo’s autonomous vehicle technology, will become available on Lyft’s app in Miami later this year.

TechCrunch has tuned into the Lyft call and will update this story as needed.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #lyft, #tc, #transportation

Big tech companies are at war with employees over remote work

A tree-lined campus surrounds a multistory glass and steel building.

Enlarge / Apple offices in northern California. (credit: Apple)

All across the United States, the leaders at large tech companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook are engaged in a delicate dance with thousands of employees who have recently become convinced that physically commuting to an office every day is an empty and unacceptable demand from their employers.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced these companies to operate with mostly remote workforces for months straight. And since many of them are based in areas with relatively high vaccination rates, the calls to return to the physical office began to sound over the summer.

But thousands of high-paid workers at these companies aren’t having it. Many of them don’t want to go back to the office full-time, even if they’re willing to do so a few days a week. Workers are even pointing to how effective they were when fully remote and using that to question why they have to keep living in the expensive cities where these offices are located.

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#apple, #covid-19, #facebook, #google, #jack-dorsey, #lyft, #marissa-mayer, #microsoft, #remote-work, #tech, #tim-cook, #twitter, #yahoo

Last-mile delivery in Latin America is ready to take off

In the United States, same-day and next-day Amazon Prime deliveries have become the de facto standard in e-commerce. People want convenience and instant gratification, evidenced by the fact that an astonishing ~45% of U.S. consumers are Amazon Prime members.

Most major retailers are scrambling to catch up to Amazon by partnering with last-mile delivery startups. Walmart has become a major investor in Cruise for autonomous-vehicle deliveries, and Target acquired Shipt and Deliv last-mile delivery startups to increase its delivery speed. Costco partnered with Instacart for same-day deliveries, and even Domino’s Pizza has jumped in by partnering with Nuro for last-mile delivery using autonomous vehicles.

E-commerce in LatAm has taken off at a compound annual industry growth rate of 16% over the past five years.

The holdout: Latin America

Venture capitalists have been investing heavily in last-mile delivery over the past five years on a global scale, but Latin America (LatAm) has lagged behind. Over $11 billion has been invested globally in last-mile logistics over the past decade, but Latin America only saw about $1 billion over the same period (Source: PitchBook and WIND Ventures research).

Within this, only about $300 million was in Spanish-speaking Latin America — a surprisingly small amount for a region that has 110 million more consumers than in the U.S.

Brazil-based Loggi accounts for about 60% of last-mile VC investment in Latin America, but it only operates in Brazil. That leaves major Spanish countries like Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina without a leading independent last-mile logistics company.

In these countries, about 60% of the last-mile delivery market is dominated by small, informal companies or independent drivers using their own trucks. This results in inefficiencies due to a lack of technologies such as route optimization as well as a lack of operating scale. These issues are quickly becoming more pronounced as e-commerce in LatAm has taken off at a compound annual industry growth rate of 16% over the past five years.

Retailers are missing an opportunity to give customers what they want. Customers today expect free, reliable same- or next-day delivery — on-time, all the time, and without damage or theft. All of these are challenging in LatAm. Theft, in particular, is a significant problem, because unprofessional drivers often steal products out for delivery and then sell them for a profit. Cost is a problem, too, because free same- and next-day deliveries are simply not available in many places.

Operational and technological roadblocks abound

Why does Latin America lag when it comes to the last mile? First, traditional LatAm e-commerce delivery involves multiple time-consuming steps: Products are picked up from the retailer, delivered to a cross-dock, distributed to a warehouse, delivered to a second cross-dock, and then finally delivered to the customer.

By comparison, modern delivery operations are much simpler. Products are picked up from the retailer, delivered to a cross-dock, and then delivered directly to the customer. There’s no need for warehousing and an extra pre-warehouse cross-dock.

And those are just the operational challenges. Lack of technology also plays a significant role. Most delivery coordination and routing in LatAm are still done via a spreadsheet or pen and paper.

Dispatchers have to manually pick up a phone to call drivers and dispatch them. In the U.S., computerized optimization algorithms dramatically cut both delivery cost and time by automatically finding the most efficient route (e.g., packing the most deliveries possible on a truck along the route) and automatically dispatching the driver that can most efficiently complete the route based on current location, capacity and experience with the route. These algorithms are almost unheard of in the Latin America retail logistics sector.

Major retail brands are the last-mile catalyst

#amazon, #amazon-prime, #argentina, #brazil, #chile, #colombia, #column, #costco, #doordash, #e-commerce, #ec-column, #ec-latin-america-and-caribbean, #ec-manufacturing-and-supply-chain, #ecommerce, #food-delivery, #instacart, #latin-america, #logistics, #lyft, #mercado-libre, #mexico, #nuro, #startups, #transportation, #uber, #walmart

Lyft ditches Google Maps for Here, partners with Argo AI

A woman in an umbrella walks to her Lyft.

Enlarge / Lyft will switch its map provider from Google to Here. (credit: Lyft)

The ride hailing company Lyft is changing up its maps, which until now have been powered by Google. Lyft will now use Here instead. Lyft says the switch means a better search database for places and addresses as well as more accurate predicted arrival times—two important things for a ride hailing company to get right.

“Over the past six months, we have worked in collaboration with Lyft to implement and test our robust destination catalog that helps riders get to more destinations in cities across North America. Our services are now enriching the Lyft network, spearheading innovation in the rideshare industry,” said Here CEO Edzard Overbeek.

There may be other motivations for the switch. According to Lyft’s head of rideshare, Ashwin Raj, the switch will “improve the efficiency of our marketplace,” but the press release also explicitly mentions keeping user data private.

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#argo-ai, #autonomous-vehicles, #biz-it, #cars, #ford, #here, #lyft, #mapping, #ridehailing

Argo, Ford to launch self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing app

Autonomous vehicle technology startup Argo AI and its backer and customer Ford plan to launch up to 1,000 self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network in a number of cities over the next five years starting with Miami and Austin.

The first Ford self-driving vehicles, which are equipped with Argo’s autonomous vehicle technology, will become available on Lyft’s app in Miami later this year. Ford and Argo have had a presence in Miami for years now and have an active fleet of test vehicles.

Austin will follow in next year with the remaining U.S. cities being added to the Lyft app in 2023 and beyond, according to Jody Kelman, who heads up Lyft’s Autonomous, the company self-driving deployment business unit. Argo currently tests in Detroit, Palo Alto, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C.

“It’s the biggest deployment certainly that we’re doing and that I think anyone else is doing,” Kelman said. “One thousand cars across six markets is a  big leap forward in terms of scaled commercialization.”

This isn’t just about Argo and Ford jumping on the Lyft network. Lyft will also provide access to driving data from its entire network in exchange for a 2.5% stake in Argo AI, under terms of the agreement announced Wednesday. Lyft already captures driving data, which includes telemetry information such as hard-braking events and even collisions. Argo is most interested in two areas of data: safety information around human drivers on its app and more generally what trip movements look like across a city, Argo CEO Bryan Salesky told TechCrunch.

“This will really help us hone and figure out where the demand is and what peak demand looks like, which helps us figure out where we need to map, where we need to go, where we need to operate,” Salesky said.  “It helps us spend our test resources wisely.”

For instance, the Lyft data should help Argo spot areas where public transit is plentiful and other neighborhoods where it’s less available or entirely absent.

“We really want to take a holistic view of the demand picture using their data,” Salesky said. “That helps us really be precise about where to deploy in order to have the greater benefit.”

The Ford vehicles will be operated by Argo and include a human safety driver behind the wheel. Salesky did note that the vehicles will drive autonomously from pickup to drop-off point.

The agreement is an indication that Argo has made progress in its AV development and specifically its work with Ford. The automaker announced in February 2017 that it was investing $1 billion in Argo AI, which was not even six months old at the time. Since then, Argo has focused on developing the virtual driver system — all of the sensors, software and compute platform — as well as high-definition maps designed for Ford’s self-driving vehicles.

In July 2019, VW Group announced it was investing $2.6 billion in Argo. That deal, which was finalized last summer, gives Ford and VW equal ownership stakes, which will be roughly 40% each over time. The remaining equity sits with Argo’s co-founders as well as employees. Argo’s board is comprised of two VW seats, two Ford seats and three Argo seats.

Lyft is also a beneficiary in the deal — and beyond that small equity stake. Lyft main goal is to become the go-to ride-hailing network and fleet management platform used by any and all commercial robotaxi services. Lyft already has partnerships with other AV developers, notably the $4 billion Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture known as Motional, as well as Waymo.

Motional vehicles are on the Lyft ride-hailing network in Las Vegas. All of the vehicles have human safety operators behind the wheel. The companies have an agreement deploy fully autonomous cars on the Lyft network in 2023.

Lyft’s intention was always to lock up the rest. Unclear with which companies might commercialize the tech first, Lyft also took on the expensive pursuit of developing autonomous vehicle technology internally through a division called Level 5. That self-driving division was acquired in April by Toyota’s Woven Planet Holdings subsidiary for $550 million.

As part of the acquisition agreement, Woven Planet signed commercial agreements to use the Lyft platform and fleet data.

#argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #ford, #lyft, #transportation

Toyota’s Woven Planet acquires HD mapping startup Carmera

Woven Planet Holdings — an entity created by Toyota to invest in, develop and eventually bring future of transportation technologies like automated driving to market — has acquired HD mapping startup Carmera for an undisclosed amount. The announcement comes less than two months since Woven Planet Holdings acquired Lyft’s autonomous vehicle unit known as Level 5 for $550 million.

It also follows another HD mapping acquisition — Nvidia’s purchase of DeepMap — that was announced in June.

Under terms of the deal, Carmera will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Woven Planet. The startup’s 50-person team will maintain its offices in New York and Seattle and will eventually be integrated into Woven Planet’s 1,000-person-and-growing enterprise, according to Woven Planet CEO James Kuffner.

Carmera will essentially become the U.S. outpost of Woven Planet’s automated mapping platform (AMP) team, which is headquartered in Tokyo. Ro Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Carmera, will report up to Mandali Khalesi who heads up AMP.

Carmera launched in 2015 with a barter type business model that uses data collected from a service it provides for free to commercial fleet operators to maintain and expand its primary mapping product. Carmera’s main and initial product is a high-definition map developed for autonomous vehicle customers like automakers, suppliers and robotaxis. Autonomous vehicle startup Voyage, which was acquired this year by Cruise, was an early Carmera customer. Baidu also used Carmera’s technology to support the open source Apollo mapping project.

The company uses data crowdsourced from its fleet-monitoring service product to keep those AV maps fresh. The fleet product is a telematics and video monitoring service used by professional fleets that want to manage risk and improve safety with their vehicles and drivers. These fleets of camera-equipped human-driven vehicles deliver new information to the autonomous map as they go about their daily business in cities.

Carmera has evolved its product lineup over time. It added a real-time events and change-management engine to its autonomous map and created a spatial data and street analytics product for cities and urban planners. Last year, Carmera launched it’s so-called Change-as-a-Service platform, a suite of products that detects changes and can be integrated into other third-party maps.

“The problem I’ve always had with some of the HD map companies is it’s nice that you have this capability, but until you can figure out how to scale it, host it and keep it updated, you’re stuck in the ‘I-have-a-neat-piece-of-software-that-someone-is-going-to-buy-from-me role,’” Mike Ramsey, VP analyst at Gartner said. “This deal solves Carmera’s scale problem.”

Carmera Toyota

Image Credits: Carmera

While Carmera is tiny in size and capital compared to Woven Planet, those following the industry might have predicted this union.

Carmera has been working with Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development, which was the impetus of Woven Planet, for three years. The startup first participated in a proof of concept project in Japan to develop camera-based automation of HD maps for urban and surface roads. The partnership expanded in 2020 to include mapping of roadways in Detroit and other roads in Michigan as well as in Japan.

“It was really easy to invest a lot into the relationship,” Gupta said reflecting on Carmera’s first partnership with Toyota in 2018. “The vision was just so similar; it’s almost eerie looking at our seed deck from five years ago and comparing it to what Woven Planet’s overall vision is and their vision for this automated mapping platform.”

Woven Planet (and by extension Toyota) already has satellite-based mapping and the massive amounts of data gleaned from its millions of vehicles on the road today. Carmera brings the dynamic mapping piece as well as its experience in the commercial fleets and safety business to Woven Planet’s portfolio.

“For me, there’s immediate near-term applications that we’ve already worked on as proofs-of-concept with Carmera, and that we haven’t yet announced, but are in the area of safety and automated driving,” Kuffner said, noting that the automaker’s new Lexus LS and Toyota Mirai models will offer an advanced driving assistance technology called Teammate that uses HP maps. “I’m really excited about that generation of products, but for fleets, absolutely. HD maps. There are a lot of applications in fleets.”

What Woven Planet is weaving

woven city prototype

Image Credits: Woven Planet/Toyota

The Lyft and now Carmera acquisitions represent a sliver of Woven Planet’s myriad of activities since its formation in January 2021 as the automaker seeks a competitive edge against established rivals and upstarts, particularly on the software front. The entity, which is based in Tokyo and a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corp, includes two operating companies, a VC fund called Woven Capital and Woven City, a testing ground for new technologies set in an interconnected smart city prototype. Toyota broke ground in February 2021 at future site of Woven City, the Higashi-Fuji site in Susono City, Japan, at the base of Mount Fuji.

The two operating companies are Woven Alpha and Woven Core, formerly Toyota Research Institute — Advanced Development Inc. Woven Core includes the mapping unit and is focused on automated driving while Woven Alpha is charged with developing new concepts and projects including the prototype city.

Meanwhile, Woven Capital invests in those next-generation mobility innovations. The VC arm kicked off its new $800 million strategic fund in March 2021 by announcing an investment into autonomous delivery vehicle company Nuro. Last month, Woven Capital invested an undisclosed amount into Ridecell, a transportation software startup that has developed a platform designed to help car-sharing, ride-sharing and autonomous technology companies manage their vehicles.

 

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #carmera, #electric-vehicles, #lyft, #mapping, #nuro, #tc, #toyota, #transportation, #woven-planet

After selling Bread last year for over $500M, this founder just raised millions for his new fintech startup

When Daniel Simon sold Bread, a consumer purchase finance and payments startup he’d co-founded, to Alliance Data Systems for over $500 million late last year, he quickly set his sights on building another startup.

During the pandemic, Simon says he observed how much strain was placed on what he described as ‘real-world’ businesses and their employees — such as truck drivers, plumbers, HVAC installers and last-mile delivery people — “and how little the last decade of innovation in fintech has done to meet the needs of the vast and vital fleets segment.”

So he teamed up with former Bread COO (and former Lyft exec) Andrew Woolf to found Coast, a company that is aiming to meet those needs with the mission of becoming “the financial platform for the future of transportation.”

And today, the New York-based company is announcing it has raised $6 million in an “oversubscribed” seed round of funding led by Better Tomorrow Ventures. Avid Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, BoxGroup, Colle, Foundation Capital, Greycroft, and Max Levchin’s SciFi VC — as well as more than a dozen angels including founders of Plaid, Flexport, Marqeta, Bread, Albert, Addi, Lithic, and other fintech and logistics startups — also put money in the round.

Coast co-founders Daniel Simon and Andrew Woolf

Businesses that operate fleets need to enable their drivers to pay for vehicle-related expenses when they’re on the road, such as maintenance, roadside assistance and gas.

But once a fleet reaches a size of more than just a few vehicles, traditional small business credit cards are no longer sufficient because they lack the line-item level security, visibility, and controls necessary with a mobile workforce, according to Simon. 

“Fleet owners need transactions to be authorized, for instance, for buying gas for the company van, not the personal car, and for filling up at the pump, not making other purchases in the gas station convenience store,” he said.

Historically, fleets have turned to specialized fleet and fuel credit cards which provide controls like restricting purchases to only fuel products of a particular grade or tracking expenses on a per-vehicle basis. But Simon argues that the companies that sell such cards were founded decades ago with very little innovation since.

Coast’s goal is to use technology to provide fleet business owners and their employees payments products that are intuitive and easy to use.

“They need their employee and vehicle payments integrated into the rest of their operations, and they need fair and transparent financial products that are simple to understand,” Simon said. Bottom line, he wants to bring the “same sort of ease of use and transparency that Bread brought to e-commerce consumers and retailers to a category of business and employee that is often overlooked in tech.”

Coast’s first product, which is set to launch later this year, is a commercial fuel charge card. Drivers will be able use a physical Coast card they keep in their wallet or a shared Coast card in the vehicle, and when they swipe it at a pump at any merchant that takes Visa, Simon says Coast will conduct a “rapid review of a complex set of rules to enforce the fleet business’s policies and flag potentially fraudulent transactions.”

“No need for entering data prompted by the pump – the driver fills up and is on their way,” he said.

Fleet owners and managers can use Coast’s web portal to assign drivers and vehicles, set policies and rules about who can purchase what, how much, how often, and when. They can also get reporting and alerts on their expense policies and potential abuse. At the end of the month, they will be able pay their Coast balance in full.

Down the line, the company plans to add integrations into major accounting platforms as well as into telematics platforms that provide real-time data on vehicle status and location “so it can provide actionable spending insights back to fleet managers.” Over time, Coast also plans to expand into more categories of fleet businesses’ spending as it seeks to become more of a holistic platform for the industry.

Sheel Mohnot of Better Tomorrow Ventures, who took a seat on Coast’s board as part of the financing, says his firm was impressed by both the size of the opportunity and the team at Coast that’s tackling it. 

“The space is one of those massive unsexy categories with huge incumbents that most people have never heard of but customers — who are forced to use them — universally despise. It’s the perfect recipe for a startup to come in and disrupt it with a much better experience,” Mohnot told TechCrunch via e-mail. “Similar to what Ramp or Brex do for startups, Coast does for fleet operators – it helps them control their spending so they can focus on growing their business.”

#articles, #avid-ventures, #bessemer-venture-partners, #better-tomorrow-ventures, #boxgroup, #bread, #coast, #credit-card, #daniel-simon, #driver, #finance, #financial-technology, #fintech, #foundation-capital, #funding, #fundings-exits, #lithic, #lyft, #marqeta, #money, #new-york, #payments, #plaid, #recent-funding, #startup, #startup-company, #startups, #web-portal

Despite flat growth, ride-hailing colossus Didi’s US IPO could reach $70B

Didi filed to go public in the United States last night, providing a look into the Chinese ride-hailing company’s business. This morning, we’re extending our earlier reporting on the company to dive into its numerical performance, economic health and possible valuation.

Didi is approaching the American public markets at a fortuitous moment. While the late-2020 IPO fervor, which sent offerings from DoorDash and others skyrocketing after their debuts, has cooled, valuations for public companies remain high compared to historical norms. And Uber and Lyft, two American ride-hailing companies, have been posting numbers that point to at least a modest recovery in the ride-hailing industry as COVID-19 abates in many parts of the world.

As further grounding, recall that Didi has raised tens of billions worth of private capital from venture capitalists, private equity firms, corporations and other sources. The size of the bet riding on Didi is simply massive. As we explore the company’s finances, then, we’re more than vetting a single company’s performance; we’re examining what sort of returns an ocean of capital may be able to derive from its exit.

In that vein, we’ll consider GMV results, revenue growth, historical profitability, present-day profitability, and what Didi may be worth on the American markets, given current comps. Sound good? Into the breach!

Inside Didi’s IPO filing

Starting at the highest level, how quickly has gross transaction volume (GTV) scaled at the company?

GTV

Didi is historically a business that operates in China but has operations today in more than a dozen countries. The impact and recovery of China’s bout with COVID-19 is therefore not the whole picture of the company’s GTV results.

COVID-19 began to affect the company starting in the first quarter of 2020. From the Didi F-1 filing:

Core Platform GTV fell by 32.8% in the first quarter of 2020 as compared to the first quarter of 2019, and then by 16.0% in the second quarter of 2020 as compared to the second quarter of 2019.

The dips were short-lived, however, with Didi quickly returning to growth in the second half of the year:

Our businesses resumed growth in the second half of 2020, which moderated the impact on a year-on-year basis. Our Core Platform GTV for the full year 2020 decreased by 4.8% as compared to the full year 2019. Both our China Mobility and International segments were impacted, but whereas the GTV for our China Mobility segment decreased by 6.6% from 2019 to 2020, the GTV for our International segment increased by 11.4% from 2019 to 2020.

Holding to just the Chinese market, we can see how rapidly Didi managed to pick itself up over the last year. Chinese GTV at Didi grew from 25.7 billion RMB to 54.6 billion RMB from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021; naturally, we’re comparing a more pandemic-impacted quarter at the company to a less-affected period, but the comparison is still useful for showing how the company recovered from early-2020 lows.

The number of transactions that Didi recorded in China during the first quarter of this year was also up more than 2x year over year.

On a whole-company basis, Didi’s “core platform GTV,” or the “sum of GTV for our China Mobility and International segments,” posted numbers that are less impressive in growth terms:

Image Credits: Didi F-1 filing

You can see how quickly and painfully COVID-19 blunted Didi’s global operations. But seeing the company settle back to late-2019 GTV numbers in 2021 is not super bullish.

Takeaway: While Didi managed an impressive GTV recovery in China, its aggregate numbers are flatter, and recent quarterly trends are not incredibly attractive.

Revenue growth

#carsharing, #china, #didi, #ec-mobility, #ec-news-analysis, #fundings-exits, #lyft, #startups, #tc, #uber, #unicorn, #united-states, #venture-capital

Rideshare drivers gather in NYC in hopes of unionizing

Protesters gathered in bright red t-shirts and matching masks bearing the Independent Drivers Guild logo. Placards bearing slogans like “Freeze Hiring, Reactive Workers Now!” and “Unlock Uber” were being handed out at a table toward the entrance. What the gathering lacked in sheer numbers, it made up with enthusiasm.

A wide range of speakers approached the podium — IDG members, drivers, local and prospective politicians. Nearly every speech was followed by a spirited call and response from the crowd, culminating in pro-union chants.

Previous protests have found drivers opting for other locations — perhaps most notably in 2019, when Brooklyn Bridge traffic toward the mayor’s residence at Gracie Mansion was slowed to a crawl. Today’s location was perfectly suited for such an event.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The gathering was framed by the Falchi Building, a large office space in Queens, New York, housing some 36,000 square feet of Uber offices. The neighborhood of Long Island City has long served as an epicenter for the city’s ridesharing operations. Lyft has offices nearby, as does the Taxi Limousine Commission (TLC). Walk down a block or two and you’ll almost certainly stumble across rows upon rows of yellow cabs.

The concerns of gig workers are nothing new, of course, but today’s crowd gathered in Long Island City, Queens to add support to a proposed bill currently making its way through the state legislature in Albany. The legislation is designed to make it easy for gig economy workers in the state to unionize.

“Currently, the gig workers have no voice in their workplace. No voice to negotiate pay or benefits of workplace policies,” bill sponsor state Sen. Diane Savino of Staten Island explained in a recent interview. “And I have been talking about this issue for several years now. The world of work is changing, and labor law has not caught up to technology and how it has changed the world of work.”

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Such legislation would have a profound impact on not just ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft, but also a wide range of gig economy jobs, including food delivery services like Seamless. The gig economy has experienced explosive growth over the past decade, in many cases accelerated by the pandemic, as more people have relied on delivery and other services amid shutdowns. But the complaints remain the same: As corporations thrive on the backs of contractors, these workers too seldom receive the benefit of that growth.

The already complex math of being a driver in a city like New York is further compounded by a series of regulations that largely exist to support its once-thriving taxi business.

Tamina Ahmed, a member of the NYC Rideshare Club and registered nurse who has also worked as a driver for six years, cites the flexible hours as a net benefit for workers, but notes the rather intensive process required to start driving in NYC.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

“That takes a lot time, funds and energy for the drivers,” Ahmed told TechCrunch after speaking at the event. “They have to sacrifice to get to this point, and it’s not right for them to be deactivated without cause. They don’t give valid reason. They just deactivate them. They’re never on the driver’s side. They’re always on the rider’s side.”

The group present at the protest seems optimistic about Savino’s proposed legislation. The ability to unionize brings certain protections to gig workers, include wages, discrimination protection and unemployment benefits. The latter is even more timely these days, as some one million gig employees in 20 Republican-controlled states will be losing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits soon. Prop 22, which passed in California last November, has been seen as another major precedent setting legislation for the industry.

With the legislative session ended this month, many are expecting action on Savino’s proposed bill. But not everyone is thrilled with what it offers. “[T]he biggest concern I have is that workers won’t have employee status,” State Senate Labor Committee Chair Jessica Ramos told NY1. “And more than that, Uber and Lyft drivers’ pay would be slashed in half. It’s very unfortunate that they crafted this bill without the workers at the table.”

We’ve reached out to Savino’s office for additional comment.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Among those I spoke with at the event, employee status wasn’t high on the list of demands. In fact, a number of drivers told me that the flexibility the current model affords them. Ramos’ name appeared on a number of the protest placards at the event, largely in a negative light. It’s a complex issue, certainly — only exacerbated by the large number of residents any legislation would impact. The rise of the gig economy has brought a number of key questions relating to the connection between worker protections and employee status to the fore.

What seems clear across the board, however, is that these drivers — and other gig economy workers — are seeking what, in many other industries, have become fairly fundamental protections. Of late, unionization has become a major talking point for blue and white-collar workers, alike. Efforts have seen a number of wins over the past few years, though April’s failure to unionize employees at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama has been seen as a major setback for the cause.

Like those workers, the list of complaints among drivers is long. When a speaker at today’s event asked the crowd how many in attendance had had their accounts deactivated, the response was overwhelming. Many believed the decisions were made fairly arbitrarily.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

“A lot of drivers are falsely being accused, deactivated, thrown out of all these rideshare companies that they invested so much money on,” Ahmed said.

The Independent Drivers Guild — which organized today’s event along with the NYC Rideshare Club and the Chinese Delivery Association — isn’t mincing words.

“By helping drivers through deactivated systems, we realized only a true union can solve that problem,” Aziz Bah, IDG organizing director, told TechCrunch. “We decided to unionize. We will let the companies know what our plans are. They had better be behind our proposal. Because this is no negotiation. If this is what drivers and delivery workers want, they had better be behind it.”

#apps, #labor, #lyft, #ridesharing, #transportation, #uber, #union

Taking Lyft’s new e-bike for a spin

The bike had none of the usual signage when I took it for a spin around the chaotic and construction-filled streets of Manhattan. It very much looked like a prototype, with visible soldering on the joints and a not-quite-complete AV system. But it handled well, when merging in and out of traffic — and at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.

Pilots for Lyft’s new e-bike begin this month. The ride-hailing service will begin offering units in cities where it operates, starting with San Francisco, then Chicago and New York. The locations will be somewhat randomized, as a kind of “Easter egg” system where users will randomly stumble on the shiny new electric bicycles. If you’re lucky enough to experience one in the wild, Lyft will shoot you an email, asking how your experience was.

Mine was pretty good, all told — but for that moment I got clipped by a delivery driver. But that’s life in the big city — and I was probably making too wide a turn, my first time on the 80-pound e-bike (20 pounds more than their predecessor). The weight of the thing (owing primarily to a massive new battery on the downtube) concerned me at first, but the bike handles surprisingly well. The pedal assist is smooth and seamless. At a cruising speed, I found that I only had to pump a few times per block.

Image Credits: Lyft

The ride was limited — almost entirely on flat ground, meaning I didn’t get to experience many of the automated gear shifts, nor really put the pedal assist to test riding up a bridge on ramp or one of San Francisco’s notorious hills. All told, the gears shifted probably two or three times during the ride. It was noticeable, but fairly smooth.

The new bikes arrive not long after Lyft deployed their last e-bike fleet (though those were not without incident). Still, the company says it essentially built these from scratch.

“There are a ton of mom and pop as well as large-scale consumer vendors for e-bikes. But a fleet e-bike is a drastically different thing,” product manager Gary Shambat told TechCrunch. “They might look similar on the outside, but the wear and tear and the vandalism cases are so supremely different that you can’t just take an existing product, patch it up in a few ways, throw on a connected module and call it a day.”

Image Credits: Lyft

The pedal assist is powered by a 500W motor and a pretty massive battery the company says is capable of a 60-mile range — meaning it should be able to get through a couple of rides without needing a full charge. All of that is monitored by a system of sensors designed to send out alerts when there’s an issue with the battery or breaks.

The white body is reflective and there’s an LED ring light up front that can change colors. The company says it’s testing different applications, beyond a simple headlight and bike locator. The ring is segmented and can turn various colors, so something like turn signals could make sense going forward. There are nice little touches throughout, as well — like the hand-bar grip, which is designed to look like tiny mustaches as a nod to that odd accoutrement from the service’s early days.

Lyft currently operates bike-sharing in nine markets.

#bikesharing, #e-bike, #lyft, #micromobility, #transportation

Canvas lands $20M so tech’s biggest companies can find diverse talent

Ben Herman and Adam Gefkovicz launched Jumpstart in 2017 with a clear mission: to make the world more equitable via a more fair and balanced hiring process.

The company released its “Diversity Recruitment Platform” in July of 2018 with the aim of helping people earlier in their careers get a “jumpstart” via technology.

Over the years, the startup’s mission has evolved beyond helping college grads to helping all employees — regardless of career stage — get a fair shot at jobs. And it’s doing that by teaming up with hundreds of companies — such as Airbnb, Bloomberg, Coinbase, Samsung, Lyft, Pinterest, Plaid, Roblox, Audible, Headspace and Stripe — to help them hire a more diverse pool of candidates.

Demand has accelerated exponentially, and the San Francisco-based startup saw its revenue grow “3x” in 2020 compared to 2019, although execs declined to provide hard figures. Considering its broadened focus, Jumpstart has rebranded to Canvas and announced today that it has closed on $20 million in funding. Early Stripe employee and angel investor Lachy Groom and Sequoia Capital co-led the round, which included participation from Four Rivers Capital. The raise brings Canvas’ total raised to $32.5 million.

“We knew we were only scratching the surface of our vision, and knew we had a solution that could reimagine diversity hiring for everyone,” said co-founder and CEO Ben Herman. “You know how everyone has a CRM? We believe every company should have a DRP, which is a diversity recruitment platform. That’s the category we want to create and we want to be the largest in that space.”

No doubt that the Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder helped, well jumpstart, the company’s efforts. Canvas is able to sell its offering as more companies “are being held accountable for their promises of equity and hiring diverse talent,” Herman said.

“Hiring diverse teams is not only a matter of corporate social responsibility,” he added. “Diversity and inclusion are a competitive advantage and strategic priority for every company in today’s landscape. We believe representation is a huge part of what we stand for. So we want everyone to be able to create their own canvas, and to be able to paint their own picture.”

Canvas describes its SaaS offering as a “fully virtual” recruiting platform that is based on self-reported data. About 87% of candidates on its platform disclose their demographic information (which it says is 7x the industry standard), according to the startup. Canvas also says it gives companies the ability to narrow down the priority groups and talent it wants to focus on by filtering over 75+ self-reported candidate data points.

The startup claims that it’s different from others in the space for that reason, among other features.

“Unlike other solutions that might utilize inferred data that could be inaccurate or illegal, Canvas helps create a more accurate data set to identify diverse candidates, helping to solve the core problem of talent discovery,” Herman said. 

It also — unlike some diversity hiring platforms — does not rely on artificial intelligence, a fact that Herman is actually proud of.

“We don’t believe that AI is the future. It’s not about getting someone’s gender or ethnicity based off of their name, or to inform the hiring decision without candidates knowing,” Herman told TechCrunch. “It’s all about how to empower talent to self-identify…We want to enable the talent to own their data, and truly be able to represent themselves in unique ways. That’s not leveraging AI.”

Canvas also gives companies a way to design, promote and run events, such as webinars, aimed at hiring diverse talent.

The startup also wants to get to a place where companies are working together “to complete the diversity data gap.”

“The problem is about accessibility, and so we want to give equal access to anyone and everyone — from all companies to all candidates,” Herman said. “And so that is really the most important part of what we are creating — the ability for companies to share data.”

So, how does it measure its own success? Canvas claims that 56% of all hires on the Canvas platform are made from underrepresented groups (URGs), and that it helps employers achieve a 30% reduction in time to hire.

Herman is not your typical startup founder, having dropped out of high school and starting his own recruitment agency at the age of 21. His tenacity is one of the things that attracted Sequoia partner and Canvas board member Mike Vernal to back the company.

“When we first met Ben, it was clear that he was…a natural-born talent scout,” Vernal told TechCrunch. “He thought there was a better way for the industry to work — one where companies and recruiters were more collaborative and used technology to build stronger, more diverse teams.”

Since its initial investment in the company, Vernal believes building diverse teams has never been more important.

“Those teams create better products, make stronger business decisions, and it’s just the right thing to do,” he said. “We believe companies can do a better job sourcing underrepresented talent using Canvas than on their own.” 

Canvas plans to use its new capital to expand the product into other industries and verticals beyond technology and continue to address the recruiting process for later stages of people’s careers. The company currently has 70 employees and expects to have 100 by the end of 2021.

As mentioned above, hiring diverse talent is becoming a bigger priority for big tech companies (such as HP) and startups alike. Earlier this year, diverse hiring startup SeekOut raised $65 million. The company has built out a database with hundreds of millions of profiles using its AI-powered talent search engine and “deep interactive analytics.”

#artificial-intelligence, #board-member, #canvas, #coinbase, #diversity, #economy, #employment, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hiring, #human-resource-management, #jumpstart, #lachy-groom, #lyft, #mike-vernal, #pinterest, #recent-funding, #recruitment, #san-francisco, #search-engine, #sequoia-capital, #startup, #startup-company, #startups, #talent, #tc, #venture-capital

Lyft, Uber kick off free COVID-19 vaccine rides program

Uber and Lyft have officially started to offer free rides to anyone traveling to get a COVID-19 vaccine, two weeks after the ride-hailing companies announced an agreement with the White House to offer the program.

The free rides will last through July 4, the date when President Joe Biden wants 70% of U.S. adults to be vaccinated. Lyft and Uber have previously told TechCrunch the companies will cover the costs of the free rides. The White House advised on the development and launch of the product. The White House also shared data on the more than 80,000 vaccination sites in the country, an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Uber is giving riders four one-way rides up to $25 off each. Each of these two round trips must be three weeks apart between Monday and July 4, Uber said in a blog post. Riders can access the program by opening up the Uber app and tapping “vaccine” and then “get your free ride.” The free rides are offered between 6 am and 8 pm. Riders must enter the zip code of their appointment to find the location they are going to or coming from. The rider then selects the provider location and the ride option.

Lyft Vaccine Rides Gif

Image Credits: Lyft

Lyft is offering two roundtrip rides up to $15 each trip. Lyft said if either ride costs more than $15 or if the rider tips their driver, those additional charges will hit their personal form of payment. Lyft is also requiring these free rides be three weeks apart.

The vaccine access program follows efforts by both companies to provide free and discounted rides to underserved communities as well as roll out features to make it easier to access vaccine information and point-of-distribution sites. Uber first rolled out a COVID-relief program in March to offer free rides and deliveries. In December, the company said it would give an additional 10 million free or discounted rides.

Uber announced in April that it was launching more than a half-dozen new features, including one that will let users book vaccine appointments at Walgreens and reserve a ride to get their jab.

Lyft kicked off in December a universal vaccine access campaign, a coalition of partners that includes JPMorgan Chase, Anthem and United Way, to provide 60 million rides to and from vaccination sites for low-income, uninsured and at-risk communities.

#automotive, #covid-19, #lyft, #ride-hailing, #transportation, #uber

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:

AI-powered Jerry raises $28M to help you save money on car insurance

When Art Agrawal was growing up in India, a car ride was a rare treat, and car ownership was a dream. When he moved to the U.S. and bought his first car, he was shocked by how much it cost and how difficult it was to maintain a car.

In 2012, he co-founded a company called YourMechanic that provides on-demand automotive mobile maintenance and repair services. Over the years, the challenge of helping consumers more easily find car insurance was in the back of his mind. So in 2017, he teamed up with Lina Zhang and  Musawir Shah to found Jerry, a mobile-first car ownership “super app.” The Palo Alto-based startup launched an AI/ML-powered car insurance comparison service in January 2019. It has quietly since amassed nearly 1 million customers across the United States as a licensed insurance broker.

“Today as a consumer, you have to go to multiple different places to deal with different things,” Argawal said. “Jerry is out to change that.”

And now today, Jerry is announcing that it has raised more than $57 million in funding, including a new $28 million Series B round led by Goodwater Capital. A group of angel investors also participated in the round include Greenlight president Johnson Cook and Greenlight CEO Timothy Sheehan; Tekion CEO Jay Vijayan; Jon McNeill, CEO of DVx Ventures and former president of Tesla and ex-COO of Lyft; Brandon Krieg, CEO of Stash and Ed Robinson, co-founder and president of Stash.

CEO Argawal says Jerry is different from other auto-related marketplaces out there in that it aims to help consumers with various aspects of car ownership (from repair to maintenance to insurance to warranties), rather than just one. Although for now it is mostly focused on insurance, it plans to use its new capital to move into other categories of car ownership.

The company also believes it is set apart from competitors in that it doesn’t refer a consumer to an insurance carrier’s site so that they still have to do the work of signing up with them separately, for example. Rather, Jerry uses automation to give consumers customized quotes from more than 45 insurance carriers “in 45 seconds.” The consumers can then sign on to the new carrier via Jerry, which would even cancel former policies on their behalf.

Image Credits: Jerry

“With Jerry, you can complete the whole transaction in our app,” Argawal said. “We don’t send you to another site. You don’t have to fill out a bunch of forms. You just give us some information, and we’ll instantly provide you with quotes.”

Its customers save on average about $800 a year on car insurance, the company claims. Jerry also offers a similar offering for home insurance but its focus is on car ownership.

The company must be doing something right. In 2020, Jerry saw its revenue surge by “10x.”

For some context, Jerry sold a few million dollars of insurance in 2019, according to Argawal. This year, he said, the company is on track to do “two to four times” more than last year’s numbers.

“There’s no other automated way to compare and buy car insurance, because all the APIs are not easily accessible,” he said. “What we have done is we have automated the end to end journey for the consumer using our infrastructure, which will only scale over time.”

Jerry makes recurring revenue from earning a percentage of the premium when a consumer purchases a policy on its site. So it’s partnered with carriers such as Progressive, Lemonade and Root to make that happen.

“A lot of the marketplaces are lead-gen. A very small percent of their revenue is reoccurring,” Argawal said. “For us, it’s 100% of our revenues.”

Down the line, Jerry wants to become a carrier itself, but is realistic in that it will take time to get licensed in all 50 states, so it expects those relationships to continue for some time.

Goodwater Capital’s Chi-Hua Chien notes that the insurance space has historically been a very challenging category from a customer experience perspective.

“They took something that has historically been painful, intimidating and difficult for the customer and made it effortless,” he told TechCrunch. “That experience will more broadly over time apply to comparison shopping and maintenance, too.”

Chien said he was also drawn to the category itself.

“This is a competitive category because 100% of drivers need to have auto insurance 100% of the time,” he said. “That’s a large market that’s not going to go away. And since Jerry is powered by AI, it will only serve customers better over time, and just grow faster.”

#apps, #artificial-intelligence, #auto-insurance, #car-insurance, #car-ownership, #ceo, #chi-hua-chien, #coo, #economy, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #goodwater-capital, #greenlight, #india, #insurance, #insurtech, #jay-vijayan, #jerry, #jon-mcneill, #lyft, #money, #palo-alto, #president, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #stash, #tc, #tekion, #tesla, #united-states, #venture-capital

Uber, Lyft to give free rides to COVID-19 vaccine sites in deal with White House

Uber and Lyft will provide free rides to any user traveling to get the COVID-19 vaccine through an agreement reached with the White House.

The free rides will last through July 4, the date when President Joe Biden wants 70% of U.S. adults to be vaccinated, according to the WSJ, which was the first to report on the partnership between the ride-hailing companies and the White House.

Lyft and Uber separately told TechCrunch the companies will cover the costs of the free rides. The White House will help advise on the product and how it is rolled out as well as share data on the more than 80,000 vaccination sites in the country, an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Uber didn’t provide a specific launch date for the program, only noting that it is expected to become available in the coming weeks. Lyft riders will be able to get a free ride code beginning May 24 via the app or website.

“Vaccines are our best hope to beat this pandemic and soon everyone in America will be able to take a free Uber to get their shot,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement. “We are honored to deepen our previous global commitments, and partner with the White House and Lyft to provide free rides to vaccination sites across the US. This is a proud moment for me, for Uber, and for our country. More and more Americans continue to get vaccinated every day — let’s keep moving forward, together.”

Uber hasn’t released further details about how its program will work. Lyft said its ride codes will cover $15 each way and noted that based on previous rides given to vaccination sites, the company expects that figure will cover most, if not all, fares. Ride codes can be used for Lyft ride-hailing, bike or scooter rides during standard pharmacy operating hours of 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

“The vaccine is the key to getting us all moving again, and we’re proud to do our part to move the country forward,” John Zimmer, co-founder and president of Lyft, said in a statement. “We’ve always believed transportation has the power to improve people’s lives, and this initiative makes that truer than ever. Helping more Americans get vaccinated helps the Lyft community of drivers and riders, and we’re grateful to the Biden Administration for prioritizing access.”

The announcement builds off of efforts by Lyft and Uber to provide free and discounted rides to underserved communities as well as roll out features to make it easier to access vaccine information and point-of-distribution sites. Uber first rolled out a COVID-relief program in March to offer free rides and deliveries. In December, the company said it would give an additional 10 million free or discounted rides.

Last month, Uber said it was launching more than a half-dozen new features, including one that will let users book vaccine appointments at Walgreens and reserve a ride to get their jab.

Lyft kicked off in December a universal vaccine access campaign, a coalition of partners that includes JPMorgan Chase, Anthem and United Way, to provide 60 million rides to and from vaccination sites for low-income, uninsured, and at-risk communities.

#automotive, #lyft, #president-joe-biden, #ride-hailing, #tc, #transportation, #uber, #white-house

Hustle Fund wants to help spawn a new generation of angel investors

Kara Penn is the mother of four daughters and owner of Mission Spark, a management and strategy consulting company.

And now, thanks to Hustle Fund, she is also an angel investor.

Hustle Fund is coming out of stealth today with Angel Squad, a new initiative aimed at making angel investing more accessible to more people. To more people like Colorado-based Penn.

We believe that in order to increase diversity in the startup ecosystem, one thing that we must do is increase diversity — whether it be in regard to gender, race or geography — amongst angel investors,” said Hustle Fund co-founder and general partner Elizabeth Yin.

Via Angel Squad, Hustle Fund specifically aims to build an inclusive investor community, make minimum check sizes low and accessible (think as little as $1,000), provide “angel education” and give investors a way to invest alongside Hustle Fund.

“There’s been this misnomer, or at least I had this incorrect assumption that in order to become an angel investor, you have to be super rich and write $25,000 checks,” Yin told TechCrunch. “But the reality is actually in Silicon Valley, there are all these people running around investing $1,000 checks…and that’s something that’s a lot more accessible than then most people might think. And, part of the value of having this group is then we can accumulate a bunch of smaller checks to then write one larger check for a company.”

So far, Penn has invested in five startups across a range of sectors including real estate, food, apparel and finance. 

She describes herself as “a complete novice” in angel investing, and so far, she’s loving the experience.

I love Hustle Fund’s perspective that great hustlers can look like anyone and come from anywhere,” Penn told TechCrunch. “I’ve enjoyed being in a supportive community with differing levels of expertise, but where every question is welcomed.”

The experience is also broadening her exposure to technology and AI, the collection and use of data and the creation of new marketplaces in ways she never would have been exposed to before.

“As someone whose own company focuses exclusively on strategy in social impact organizations, I am also looking for how founders identify and bring to market creative solutions to complex problems, as well as exposure to a network of innovative people looking to solve hard issues in smart ways,” Penn said. “This exposure is helping me begin to think about applications of these approaches to difficult social problems.”

For some context, Hustle Fund is a venture firm founded by Elizabeth Yin and Eric Bahn, two former 500 Startups partners, with the goal of investing in pre-seed software startups. The firm has traditionally operated by investing $25,000 in a company, usually with a minimum-viable product, and then works with the team to help them grow. It does around 50 investments per year, according to its website. 

It recently closed on $33.6 million for a new fund.

“One of the things most important to us is this bigger mission of wanting to change the way the startup ecosystem is,” Yin said. “I noticed both as an entrepreneur and while running an accelerator, if you have a certain resume, went to certain schools, or were a certain race or gender, you have advantages in starting a company and getting funding. For many people, if you don’t tick those boxes, it can be very challenging. That’s why we’re investing in a lot of founders from all walks of life.”

Hustle Fund Venture Partner Brian Nichols had started a syndicate of Lyft alumni on AngelList. After doing a few deals, he opened up the syndicate to people outside of AngelList.

“I found there was a wide range of people looking to diversify into private markets, from all over the world with all types of backgrounds,” he said. “Hustle Fund and I had similar taste in companies I was investing in and I built a relationship with them in co-investments.”

Today, he’s helping run the fund’s Angel Squad initiative. So far, it has had two cohorts with over 150 investors total and true to the fund’s mission, those investors have been more diverse than typical angel syndicates: 46% of the members are female, 9% are underrepresented minorities and 32% are people who work outside of tech with professional roles such as lawyers, doctors and artists. Just one-third are based in Silicon Valley.

Every week, Angel Squad hosts an event which ranges from networking to a peek behind the curtain at opportunities at Hustle Fund is considering investing in to talking through why or why not to take a meeting with a founder.

“Imagine starting from zero, and if you could skip a bunch of steps and have Elizabeth (Yin) tell you how to do this before you lose a bunch of money in the process of evaluating a startup,” Nichols told TechCrunch. “Angel Squad is exactly what I wish had existed three or four years ago when I became interested in investing.”

Silicon Valley, Yin acknowledges, can be intimidating but the reality is that no one is an expert in everything.

“We’re trying to cultivate an environment where people are very kind — we have a no asshole rule, and that is a safe space where people can learn and feel like they can ask questions, and not have to know everything about angel investing. The reality is most people don’t. And we want to bring new people into this system.”

Besides not being an a-hole, other criteria in becoming a Squad Member include being able to add value and being an accredited investor.

“With rounds as competitive as they are today, we are looking for people who want to be actively supportive of the portfolio companies we’re investing in,” Nichols said. “Every person who wants to join the program is interviewed by someone from our team, who asks questions such as ‘What can you help a founder with?’ We are not looking for passive capital. That’s not super helpful at this point in the ecosystem.

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NYC files lawsuit to halt Citi Bike rival JOCO’s e-bike operations

The City of New York has filed a lawsuit against JOCO, the docked electric bike-share service, just weeks after the company launched operations in the city.

The city alleges JOCO is operating illegally because all bike-sharing systems within the city require prior written authorization from the Department of Transportation. JOCO has argued that it’s not violating any laws since its docking stations are all on private property and thus outside the jurisdiction of the city’s regulation. In late April, the city issued a cease and desist notice to JOCO, which the company ignored. 

The court denied Thursday the city’s request to temporarily halt JOCO’s operations in advance of a hearing scheduled for June 16. 

“We are pleased with the result in court today, and in the months ahead we will be expanding our operations to help New Yorkers with more mobility options as they return to work and begin to again enjoy the city as it re-opens and recovers from the pandemic,” said the co-founders of JOCO, Johnny Cohen and Jonny A. Cohen, in a statement.

JOCO launched 300 e-bikes at 30 stations around Manhattan in April, and said it plans to nearly triple that number by June. The company has partnerships with parking garages in the city, including the iconic Icon Parking, the city’s largest operator of private garages.

The lawsuit filed this week, which includes a request to impose a civil penalty against JOCO of $5,000 for every day a violation occurs, specifies that Citi Bike, a subsidiary of Lyft, is the only company presently authorized by the DOT to operate a bike share in any of New York’s five boroughs. The Citi Bike system, which launched in 2012 and has recorded more than 111 million trips, originated in a request for bike-share proposals from the department that would benefit the public, including mandated safety, service levels and maintenance standards, as well as privacy and consumer protections. 

“We’re committed to the highest safety standards,” the two Cohens told TechCrunch. “We have fleet management, we give free helmets to all our members. We are a responsible startup making sure we have all our bases covered in this regard, and to add onto that, we’re using a very reputable bike.”

A JOCO spokesperson declined further comment regarding the city’s justification for regulation and exclusivity with Citi Bike.

We all live on top of each other in NYC,” tweeted New York State Senator Liz Krueger in response to the lawsuit. “Our street space requires thoughtful regulation to be functional and safe. Any transportation service that moves people in large numbers on the public right-of-way needs oversight, public accountability and to obey the laws that exist.”

The exclusive operations rights afforded Citi Bike are also an incentive for the investment of private capital needed to expand the system, according to language in the lawsuit. The city’s contract with Lyft, which was most recently amended in 2020, includes an investment of $300 million to expand the system.

A Lyft spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit.

#citi-bike, #electric-bikes, #joco, #lyft, #micromobility, #nyc, #tc, #transportation

Investors cheer as Lyft’s Q1 revenue didn’t fall as much as expected

Investors gave Lyft’s value a small bump Tuesday after the American ride-hailing company reported results that weren’t quite as bad as the company, and Wall Street had expected. Shares of the Uber competitor rose as much as 4.5% in after-hours trading following the disclosure of its financial performance from the first three months of the year. As of the time of writing those gains have fallen to a smaller 2.5% gain.

Turning to its results, Lyft’s revenue fell 36% to $609 million in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year before the COVID-19 pandemic upended the economy, and, more specifically the ride-hailing industry. That disparity in revenue can be directly tied to fewer active riders using its app. The company said it had 13.49 million active riders in the first quarter, down more 36.4% from the 21.2 million riders on its network in the same period last year.

But while the company’s ride base and revenues did fall, the drops were not as extreme as the company, or its backers feared. As Lyft trumpeted at the top of its quarterly results deck, its revenue in the period was $59 million greater than the midpoint of its guidance. That’s investor speak for overshooting the mean, which apparently is an A+ in today’s market.

The company reported an adjusted EBITDA loss totaling $73 million in the first quarter, which was far better than anticipated. The company had expected a sharper $135 million adjusted EBITDA deficit for the period.

In addition to beating its own Q1 2021 goals to some degree, Lyft posted 7% percent revenue growth over what it recorded in Q4 2020, a detail that Lyft pointed to as a sign that the company was on the road to recovery. Lyft said ridership also improved some 8% from the previous quarter.

The company remains deeply unprofitable, despite its partial recovery. Lyft reported a net loss of $427.3 million in the first quarter, a 7.3% worsening from the $398.1 million net loss it recorded during the same period last year. Those losses included $180.7 million of stock-based compensation and related payroll tax expenses and $128.0 million related to changes to the liabilities for insurance required by regulatory agencies attributable to historical periods.

Despite the losses, Lyft executives said they were buoyed by stronger rider demand, which has picked up in recent months.

The company also emphasized the sale of its self-driving unit called Level 5, which was announced last week. Lyft sold the autonomous vehicle unit to Toyota’s Woven Planet Holdings subsidiary for $550 million, the latest in a string of acquisitions spurred by the cost and lengthy timelines to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology. Uber also sold its self-driving tech, work that was once seen as existential to the ride-hailing game.

Lyft’s so-called Level 5 division will be folded into Woven Planet Holdings once the transaction closes in the third quarter of 2021. Lyft will receive $550 million in cash, with $200 million paid upfront. The remaining $350 million will be made in payments over five years. About 300 people from Lyft Level 5 will be integrated into Woven Planet. The Level 5 team, which in early 2020 numbered more than 400 people in the U.S., Munich and London, will continue to operate out of its office in Palo Alto, California.

Lyft reported $2.2 billion of unrestricted cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments at the end of the first quarter of 2021.

Considering the company’s quarter in aggregate it’s easy to make the bearish and bullish case regarding its performance. On the bearish side of things, Lyft is smaller, and losing even more money than it did in the year-ago period. And the road to recovery for its operations will prove winding as COVID-19 declines to fuck off, even in the face of rising global vaccination levels.

On the bullish side of things, the following chart from the Lyft earnings deck is perhaps the best single-image argument that could be made for Lyft’s recovery being deeply underway:

Lyft Q1 2021

Image Credits: Screenshot/Lyft

More when Uber reports its own Q1 2021 performance tomorrow.

#automotive, #earnings, #electric-vehicles, #lyft, #ride-hailing, #rideshare, #transportation, #uber