A former co-worker accused the men of wiretapping their colleagues, hacking foreign governments and stealing trade secrets. It wasn’t true, but the allegations still follow them.
The autonomous vehicle developers Cruise and Waymo both got a little closer to running true driverless robotaxi services in and around San Francisco. In May, both Waymo and Cruise applied to the California Department of Motor Vehicles for deployment permits (as opposed to the testing permits that have allowed non-commercial operations). On Thursday, the DMV issued autonomous deployment permits to both companies, which is a necessary step if the robotaxis are to charge passengers for their rides.
San Franciscans might have to be night owls to catch a Cruise; the DMV’s authorization gives Cruise permission to operate on surface streets within a geofenced area of San Francisco between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am. Cruise’s autonomous vehicles are allowed to operate in light rain and light fog, but they aren’t allowed to exceed 30 mph (48 km/h).
Waymo is allowed to operate over a wider area; the DMV’s authorization is “within parts of San Francisco and San Mateo counties.” These robotaxis are also trusted to cope with light rain and light fog and are approved for speeds of up to 65 mph (105 km/h).
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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. I’m back after a one-week hiatus. Did ya miss me? Yes, of course you did.
A lot happened while I was away and I’ll try my best to highlight the important stuff. Before I get to the hard news, I want to direct your attention to the latest founders Q&A — an ongoing series to highlight people who have started and are running transportation companies. Our twist? We will check on these founders a year from when their interview has been published.
This week, Zūm co-founder and CEO Ritu Narayan was in the hot seat. Check it out.
Also, it’s been awhile since I have directed y’all to The Autonocast, the podcast I co-host with Alex Roy and Ed Niedermeyer. We’ve had some great episodes in recent weeks, notably our interview with mobility-focused venture capitalist Olaf Sakkers. He joined the show to discuss “The Mobility Disruption Framework,” a funny, insightful book about the trends and technologies transforming the ways we get around. You can read the book here.
Nuro’s Nevada play
Earlier this month, we published a series of articles that took a deep dive into autonomous vehicle technology company Nuro. We mentioned that the company was aiming to move into Nevada. Now, there are more details.
Nuro, which is applying its AV tech to delivery, is investing $40 million to develop a factory and closed course test track in southern Nevada. Nuro co-founder and CEO Jiajun Zhu said this will allow Nuro to “build tens of thousands of robots.”
And Nuro isn’t wasting any time getting started. Construction on the factory will begin in fall 2021 and is expected to be completed in 2022. Both the factory and closed-course testing facility are expected to be fully operational in 2022, the company said.
The factory, which will be more than 125,000 square feet, will be used to build Nuro’s third-generation autonomous vehicles with current and future partners. BYD North America will be Nuro’s manufacturing partner.
Nuro is also taking over 74 acres of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to build a closed-course testing facility that will allow the development and validation of its autonomous on-road vehicles. The testing track will measure bot performance in a broad range of scenarios, from avoiding pedestrians and pets to giving bicycles space on shared roadways, as well as environmental tests and vehicle systems validation. the company said.
Deal of the week
Rivian has raised more than $10.5 billion in its lifetime, funds that have been directed towards the design, development and production of its first two electric vehicles as well as commercial vans for Amazon.
It’s a hefty sum that should be enough to fulfill that mission — and more. And yet, even Rivian is no match for the public market’s siren song.
The company, just weeks before its first electric pickup trucks are expected to be delivered to customers, confidentially filed paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to go public. A Rivian IPO announcement has been expected for months now. The valuation the company is shooting for is the big surprise. If Bloomberg’s sources are right, Rivian is shooting for a valuation roughly around $80 billion.
That’s nearly three times larger than the last valuation I was able to nail down in January. At that time, the company had just raised another $2.65 billion from existing investors T. Rowe Price Associates Inc., Fidelity Management and Research Company, Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, Coatue and D1 Capital Partners. New investors also participated in that round, which pushed Rivian’s valuation to $27.6 billion, a source familiar with the investment round told TechCrunch at the time.
Rivian has raised more money since then. In July, the company announced it had closed a $2.5 billion private funding round led by Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, D1 Capital Partners, Ford Motor and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. Third Point, Fidelity Management and Research Company, Dragoneer Investment Group and Coatue also participated in that round. The company did not share a post-money valuation at the time of the July 2021 announcement.
Officially, Rivian says the size and price range for the proposed offering have yet to be determined.
Other deals that got my attention this week …
Coco, the Los Angeles delivery robot startup, raised $36 million in a Series A round led by Sam Altman, Silicon Valley Bank and Founders Fund, with participation from Sam Nazarian, Ellen Chen and Mario Del Pero. It brings the company’s total funding up to around $43 million.
DealerPolicy, an insurance marketplace for automotive retail, raised $110 million in a Series C rouond led by the Growth Equity business within Goldman Sachs Asset Management. Additional investors include 3L Capital and Hudson Structured Capital Management Ltd. Goldman Sachs’ Paul Pate will also join the company’s board of directors.
Getaround, the peer-to-peer car-sharing startup, is in talks to go public through a merger with special purpose acquisition company Altitude Acquisition Corp , Reuters reported. The company has confidentially sought investors to participate in the deal through a private placement in public equity, or PIPE, at a valuation of around $1.7 billion.
HyPoint, the two-year-old fuel cell developer, has secured a $6.5 million development agreement with Piasecki Aircraft Corporation for the design and certification of hydrogen fuel cell systems. Through the partnership, HyPoint aims to deliver five full-scale, 650 kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for ground testing, demo flights and the certification process.
KKR, the global investment firm, has plans to acquire New Zealand bus and coach company Ritchies Transport, which currently has a fleet of more than 1,600 vehicles and 42 depots that operate across the country. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but sources familiar with the circumstances say the deal values Ritchies at over $347 million ($500 million NZD). This is KKR’s first infrastructure investment in New Zealand.
Malta Inc., an energy storage company, said that Chevron Technology Ventures and Piva Capital have joined a group of investors including Proman, Alfa Laval, Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Dustin Moskovitz in its oversubscribed Series B financing, increasing the round to more than $60 million.
MaxAB, the Egyptian B2B e-commerce platform that serves food and grocery retailers, raised a $15 million extension from existing investors RMBV, IFC, Flourish Ventures, Crystal Stream Capital, Rise Capital, Endeavour Catalyst, Beco Capital and 4DX Ventures. The extension brings its total Series A fundraise to $55 million.
Point Pickup Technologies, a last-mile delivery service, acquired white-label e-commerce platform GrocerKey for $42 million. The acquisition means Point Pickup will be able to offer retailers services such as same-day delivery under their own brand name, rather than under third parties like Instacart.
Upstream, the Israeli automotive security firm, raised $62 million in a Series C funding round led by Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance and was joined by new investors I.D.I. Insurance, 57 Stars’ NextGen Mobility Fund and La Maison Partners. Existing investors Glilot Capital, Salesforce venture, Volvo Group Venture Capital, Nationwide, Delek US and others also participated in the round. With this latest round, the company has raised a total of $105 million since its founding in 2017.
Volvo Group has agreed to buy heavy duty truck subsidiary of Jiangling Motors Corp for about 1.1 billion Swedish crowns ($125.7 million) to make trucks in China, Reuters reported.
Welcome back to policy corner! The stalemate over the budget reconciliation that I warned might take months to break — just kidding! The House managed to pass the $3.5 trillion budget resolution and made progress on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill on Tuesday, in a 220-212 bipartisan vote. The vote includes a non-binding agreement to vote on the infrastructure bill by Sept. 27.
The path is now clear for Democrats to pass one of the most socially progressive budgets in decades, with a slew of social safety net provisions for childcare, healthcare, climate and education. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had previously sworn she would stall the infrastructure bill until the budget passed, so the infrastructure bill passing sometime in our lifetime is suddenly looking like a much more realistic proposal!
Progressive Democrats in particular are committed to keeping the fate of the two bills intertwined. “We will only vote for the infrastructure bill after passing the reconciliation bill,” Progressive Caucus chairwoman, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.), said in a statement.
Speaking of the two bills… while consumer incentives for electric vehicles were slashed from the infrastructure bill, they did survive the budget reconciliation. Right now, there currently exists a 30D tax credit, but the $7,500 incentive doesn’t include automakers that have sold more than 200,000 EVs (so General Motors and Tesla don’t qualify).
Leilani Gonzalez with the Zero Emission Transportation Association urged reform to the EV tax credit. She suggested that Congress slash means-testing for the credit, like one that only allows people under a certain annual income to access it.
“Congress should ensure that this tax credit is not impeded by restrictive means-tested requirements, like low manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) or adjusted gross income (AGI) caps,” she wrote. “These limitations ignore the public benefits of EVs that leave everyone better off, and they would only serve to hinder EV adoption.”
Even beyond reform, some Democrats are pushing for a direct cash rebate — meaning that the dollar amount would just be taken off the cost of the car at the point of sale, rather than the consumer having to wait to get that money back at tax time. But we’re still a long way from seeing a new kind of consumer incentive put into law, with some Democrats urging a $12,500 tax credit, and others arguing for a rebate, with still others arguing for either but with means-testing like what Gonzalez writes about.
In any case, we’ll be keeping an eye on it. It’s very hard to imagine how the country will achieve any kind of meaningful transition to electric vehicles by 2030 without some mechanism to make them easier (and cheaper) to buy.
In other news, the Federal Aviation Administration is spending $20.4 million in grants to airports who want to electrify equipment and transition to ZEVs. This isn’t about the planes themselves, though they tend to get the most media attention. These grants would be for less sexy things like airport shuttle buses and mobile ground power units, but which collectively still generate a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. The FAA has earmarked $300 million out of its $3.5 billion budget for electrification initiatives.
— Aria Alamalhodaei
Notable news and other tidbits
It’s one of those weeks folks. Lotta news so let’s get down to it.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk admitted that the latest version of its so-called FSD tech — which is an upgraded version of its Autopilot advanced driver assistance system — is “not great.” He went on to write that the “Autopilot/AI team is rallying to improve as fast as possible. We’re trying to have a single tech stack for both highway & city streets, but it requires massive [neural network] retraining.”
Cruise, GM’s self-driving car subsidiary, launched a new initiative called Farm to Fleet that will allow the company to source solar power from farms in California’s Central Valley. Cruise is directly purchasing renewable energy credits from Sundale Vineyards and Moonlight Companies to help power its fleet of all-electric autonomous vehicles in San Francisco.
Jalopnik’s Jason Torchinsky has a great explainer on the various levels of SAE autonomy.
Toyota suspended the operation of its e-Palette autonomous shuttles — which do have two human safety operators on board — at the Paralympic Games Athletes’ Village after one of the shuttles struck an athlete. The schedule for resuming operations at the Paralympic Games has not yet been determined, the company said. A spokesperson also noted to me that only the shuttles at the Olympics were halted. The e-Palette program is still operational.
Update: Since the newsletter went out to subscribers over the weekend, Toyota has restarted the e-Palette shuttles in the Olympic village. It’s important to note that these shuttles use a combination of manual and autonomous driving modes while underway. Toyota President Akio Toyoda apologized for the incident during a recent interview. The translation provided in closed captioning isn’t great, but he does make some interesting comments about the readiness of autonomous vehicle technology. In short: it’s not ready and humans are still better drivers.
Waymo has launched a robotaxi service that will be open to certain vetted riders in San Francisco. The company officially kicked off its Waymo One Trusted Tester program in the city with a fleet of all-electric Jaguar I-PACEs equipped with the company’s fifth generation of its autonomous vehicle system. This is a big step for Waymo and we’ll be watching closely to see how the ramp mirrors, or differs, from its service in the Phoenix area.
Greg Bensinger took a look at the terms of service on the Waymo One ride-hailing app and in a tweet thread provides a breakdown of what riders are agreeing to, including that the company will record video of riders while being driven around San Francisco.
Waymo also has decided to get out of the lidar sales business as it shifts its focus to deploying its autonomous vehicle technology across its ride-hailing and trucking divisions. In 2019, Waymo announced it would sell its short-range lidar, called Laser Bear Honeycomb, to companies outside of self-driving cars. It initially targeted robotics, security and agricultural technology.
GM expanded (again) its recall of Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles due to fire risks from battery manufacturing defects. The automaker said it would seek reimbursement from LG Chem, its battery cell manufacturing partner, for what it expects to be $1 billion worth of losses. this is the third recall GM has issued for this vehicle related to batteries.
Lordstown Motors hired Daniel A. Ninivaggi, a longtime automotive executive and former head of Carl C. Icahn’s holding company, as CEO and a board member. The appointment follows months of tumult at Lordstown, which became publicly traded via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company.
Aria Alamalhodaei wrote up a feature on Buoyant, a recent Y Combinator grad and one of several airship startups that have popped up recently.
Mercedes-Benz’s chief technology officer Sajjad Khan is leaving the automaker to start a venture capital fund, the company said in a statement. Khan’s replacement, Magnus Östberg, will take over the CTO role effective Sept. 1.
Porsche Cars North America added its entire U.S. inventory of new cars to an online marketplace that it launched in May 2020. The platform called Porsche Finder is one of the ways the automaker is trying to keep up with customer demands and the industry’s shift to digital commerce. The product lets customers search by vehicle model and generation as well as price, equipment, packages and colors, on all new and used vehicle inventory from its 193 U.S. dealerships.
Tesla wants to supply electricity directly to customers, according to an application filed with Texas electricity regulators earlier this month. Energy Choice Matters first reported on the application.
The application, filed with the Public Utilities Commission of Texas on August 16, is a request to become what’s called a “retail electric provider” under its subsidiary Tesla Energy Ventures. On the deregulated, idiosyncratic Texas power market, REPs generally purchase wholesale electricity from power generators and sell it to customers. More than 100 REPs currently compete on the open market.
Just months after a CEO shakeup, Waymo is officially halting sales of its custom sensors to third parties. The move sees the Alphabet-owned self-driving company unwinding a business operation just two years into its lifespan. Waymo confirmed the decision to Reuters, adding that it’s now focusing on deploying its Waymo Driver tech across its Waymo One ride-hailing and Waymo Via trucking divisions.
The decision comes in the wake of long-term CEO John Krafcik’s departure, who was replaced at the helm by Waymo execs Tekedra Mawakana and Dmitri Dolgov. Some suggested that Krafcik’s deliberate approach was hindering the company’s push toward commercialization. Earlier this month, Waymo hit a milestone of 20 billion miles driven in simulations, with 20 million on public roads. Just days ago, it brought its robotaxis to vetted riders in San Francisco.
Waymo began selling LiDARs — the tech that measures distance with pulses of laser light — to companies barring its autonomous vehicle rivals in 2019. It initially planned to sell its short-range sensor (known as Laser Bear Honeycomb) to businesses in the robotics, security and agricultural technology sectors. A form on its website also lists drones, mapping and entertainment as applicable industries.
Waymo’s fifth-generation Driver technology uses an array of sensors — including radar, lidar, and cameras — to help its cars “see” 360 degrees during the day and night, and even in tough weather conditions such as rain or fog. While its simulated and real world driving tests have helped it to amass a massive dataset that is crunched using machine learning-based software. According to anonymous sources cited by Reuters, Waymo intends to use in-house tech and external suppliers for its next-gen LiDARs.
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.
Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving arm, is building a dedicated trucking hub in Dallas and partnering with Ryder for fleet management services in a two-pronged move to seriously scale up its autonomous trucking operations across Texas, Arizona and California.
This news comes just a couple of months after Waymo announced a $2.5 billion raise that it would use to continue growing its autonomous driving platform, the Waymo Driver, as well as its team. Waymo has been ramping up testing on the fifth generation of the Driver on Class 8 trucks, hauling freight for carriers like J.B. Hunt along Interstate 45 between Houston and Fort Worth, Texas and working with Daimler Trucks to develop a robust level 4 redundant vehicle platform, according to a spokesperson for the company. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, level 4 autonomy means the vehicle can drive itself without a human but only in predefined areas.
Waymo has already broken ground on the new 9-acre trucking hub, which will be built specifically for Waymo Via, the company’s autonomous trucking operations, in Dallas-Forth Worth to service one of the busiest corridors in the country. Designed for commercial use, the hub is expected to accommodate hundreds of trucks as the company scales in the region and amplifies larger and more complex autonomous testing. Waymo says it will help the company spread out operations in Texas beyond the I-45 and across the I-10 and I-20. The location is well situated to support long-haul routes across state borders and connect with Waymo’s Phoenix operations center. Waymo said it plans to move into the facility during the first half of next year.
This is where the Ryder partnership comes in. The Dallas hub will be a central launch point for testing not only the Waymo Driver, but also its transfer hub model, which is a mix of automated and manual trucking that optimizes transfer hubs near highways to ensure the Waymo Driver is sticking to main thoroughfares and human drivers are handling first and last mile deliveries. Scaling this model will require a high level of organization, and Ryder’s fleet management services and standardized fleet maintenance across over 500 facilities should be up to the job.
The partnership includes fleet maintenance, inspections and roadside assistance across all of the Waymo Via hubs and testing sites, including the new Dallas facility. Given Ryder’s size and influence and Waymo’s access to AV fleet data, the two companies will also work on a blueprint for autonomous truck maintenance and optimized performance.
“While this partnership initially focuses on fleet maintenance, we see many opportunities to collaborate on autonomous trucking operations in order to successfully deploy these trucks at scale,” said Karen Jones, chief marketing officer and head of new product development for Ryder, in a statement. “Already, we’ve collaborated on the layout and design of Waymo’s new Dallas facility to ensure it’s optimized for serviceability of trucks and for the transfer hub model they plan to pursue in the near future. Autonomous Class 8 technology is quickly taking hold, and Ryder is poised to become a leader — not only in servicing trucks but also in managing the unique logistics of autonomous operations.”
Nuro doesn’t have a typical Silicon Valley origin story. It didn’t emerge after a long, slow slog from a suburban garage or through a flash of insight in a university laboratory. Nor was it founded at the behest of an eccentric billionaire with money to burn.
Nuro was born — and ramped up quickly — thanks to a cash windfall from what is now one of its biggest rivals.
Nuro was born — and ramped up quickly — thanks to a cash windfall from what is now one of its biggest rivals.
In the spring of 2016, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu were teammates on Google’s self-driving car effort. Ferguson was directing the project’s computer vision, machine learning and behavior prediction teams, while Zhu (widely JZ) was in charge of the car’s perception technologies and cutting-edge simulators.
“We both were leading pretty large teams and were responsible for a pretty large portion of the Google car’s software system,” Zhu recalls.
As Google prepared to spin out its autonomous car tech into the company that would become Waymo, it first needed to settle a bonus program devised in the earliest days of its so-called Chauffeur project. Under the scheme, early team members could choose staggered payouts over a period of eight years — or leave Google and get a lump sum all at once.
Ferguson and Zhu would not confirm the amount they received, but court filings released as part of Waymo’s trade secrets case against Uber suggest they each received payouts in the neighborhood of $40 million by choosing to leave.
“What we were fortunate enough to receive as part of the self-driving car project enabled us to take riskier opportunities, to go and try to build something that had a significant chance of not working out at all,” Ferguson says.
Within weeks of their departure, the two had incorporated Nuro Inc, a company with the non-ironic mission to “better everyday life through robotics.” Its first product aimed to take a unique approach to self-driving cars: Road vehicles with all of the technical sophistication and software smarts of Google’s robotaxis, but none of the passengers.
In the five years since, Nuro’s home delivery robots have proven themselves smart, safe and nimble, outpacing Google’s vehicles to secure the first commercial deployment permit for autonomous vehicles in California, as well as groundbreaking concessions from the U.S. government.
While robotaxi companies struggle with technical hitches and regulatory red tape, Nuro has already made thousands of robotic pizza and grocery deliveries across the U.S., and Ferguson (as president) and Zhu (as CEO) are now heading a company that as of its last funding round in November 2020 valued it at $5 billion with more than 1,000 employees.
But how did they get there so fast, and where are they headed next?
Turning money into robots
“Neither JZ nor I think of ourselves as classic entrepreneurs or that starting a company is something we had to do in our lives,” Ferguson says. “It was much more the result of soul searching and trying to figure out what is the biggest possible impact that we could have.”
In early 2021, a Nuro autonomous delivery vehicle pulled to a halt at a four-way stop in its hometown of Mountain View, California to let a user cross. This seemingly humdrum moment quickly looked like a decidedly science fiction storyline — the user was a small sidewalk robot from another startup on its own mission.
“Obviously, we yielded to it, but it was, wow, we have entered a different world,” said Amy Jones Satrom, head of Operations at Nuro.
Mountain View is home to competitor Waymo and other autonomous vehicle testing activity. But for those who want to take part in that science fiction scene, Houston provides the full experience.
Nuro’s operations team has to delicately balance speed, safety, convenience and congestion, even as the company embarks on a growth spurt that will see robots spreading to other cities, states and partners in the months ahead.
Waymo is testing self-driving trucks in Houston, and a fully driverless shuttle service is due to start public service there early next year. Nuro’s Texas effort started in April, when an R2 robot began its commercial pizza delivery service in partnership with Domino’s. Some customers ordering pizzas from the Domino’s Woodland Heights store will see the option to have their pies delivered by robot.
Customers can trace the progress of the self-driving vehicle on the Domino’s app and, when it pulls up outside their home, tap in a unique PIN on its touchscreen to access their order. Nuro is also operating in Houston with Kroger supermarkets and FedEx.
“One of the things we laugh about is how customers constantly talk to the bot,” Dennis Maloney, Domino’s chief innovation pfficer said. “It’s almost like they think it’s ‘Knight Rider.’ It’s very common for customers to thank it or say goodbye, which is great because that indicates we’re creating an engaging experience that they’re not frustrated by.”
Creating an experience, where people want to chat with their new robot neighbors instead of chasing them down the street with pitchforks, falls to Jones Satrom’s operations team. It has to delicately balance speed, safety, convenience and congestion, even as Nuro embarks on a growth spurt that will see robots spreading to other cities, states and partners in the months ahead.
Here’s how it manages that, and what the future holds for Nuro’s ever-so-gentle robot invasion.
Mapping the territory
Few people are as well suited to overseeing Nuro’s high-stakes robot rollout as Jones Satrom, who started her career as a nuclear engineer on an aircraft carrier and previously managed the integration of Kiva Systems’ robots into Amazon’s warehouses.
Kodiak Robotics is one of the last private autonomous vehicles companies focused on trucking that is still standing. Nearly all the rest have been wooed by the public marketplace and the capital it can provide. But co-founder and CEO Don Burnette says the three-year-old company’s strategy of staying focused and small(er) is paying off.
It will be able to deploy a commercial-scale operation for about $500 million in funding, he says in the interview below. To put those go-to-market costs in perspective, that’s 10% of what Waymo has raised in external fundraising and less than 25% of newly publicly traded company TuSimple’s total fundraise.
Kodiak’s strategy is to take a specialized, hyperfocused approach to autonomous trucking that outsources a lot of tech, like data labeling, lidar, radar and mapping, to existing companies. Burnette, who was one of four founders of the self-driving truck startup Otto that Uber acquired, thinks this is a faster, cheaper and more efficient path to commercialization versus building out your own systems and teams.
The company is moving freight for commercial customers, dipping its toes in the market by working with technology partners within the existing ecosystem. Burnette says Kodiak’s Driver technology has achieved a level of maturity where it can handle anything the highway throws at it. In December, the startup achieved “disengagement-free deliveries” between Dallas and Houston, meaning the autonomous system didn’t have to be switched off for safety reasons.
The following interview, part of an ongoing series with founders who are building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity.
You previously told me that Kodiak would need about $500 million in total funding to get to commercial driverless. You also said you’ve had some undisclosed funding rounds, but publicly, you’ve only raised $40 million. Can you still execute on your vision this far off?
Absolutely. We are always, as startups are, in fundraising mode. We’re always talking to investors. And there’s a lot of great things happening behind the scenes currently that we haven’t yet announced. We are growing, we’re hiring, if you can look to that as an indicator of the health of a company.
Our tech and our plan is really sound, and we are building up our commercialization efforts in a way that I think is going to be very exciting to the overall industry and to the market. We will need to raise more money, as you pointed out, that’s certainly no secret, but I think that we have multiple options to do that.
“Kodiak is one of the only remaining serious AV trucking companies still in the private sector, and so I think that gives us some advantages in a lot of ways.”
How do you intend to close that gap? Are you looking at venture capital, or maybe going for an IPO or SPAC?
We’re considering all of the above. It’s a constant conversation internally on what is the best path for Kodiak, what is the appetite of the various forms of investors and strategic relationships. Nothing is excluded.
The stock market is obviously very attractive and exciting. I think TuSimple has demonstrated that an IPO with the right set of metrics and the right set of momentum and partners is possible and can be successful. I think there’s also lots of opportunity within the VCs and the private markets. Kodiak is one of the only remaining serious AV trucking companies still in the private sector, and so I think that gives us some advantages in a lot of ways.
What’s your sense of the venture funding environment right now in autonomous? Is it harder now than it was, say, four years ago?
The appetite has changed. In particular, investors are more skeptical of timelines and promises. There is not this sense of Wild West excitement like there was four or five years ago, and that was the Golden Age of raising capital, certainly for earlier stage companies.
Kodiak was at the tail end of that age, and now the goalposts have changed, and the target investors have changed. It’s no longer the early-stage VCs that companies like Kodiak and others are talking to. It’s more of the growth-stage funds, and growth-stage funds look for different types of metrics. They look for commercial traction, product-market fit, users, efficiencies, etc.
Waymo, Google’s former self-driving car project that’s now an independent business unit under Alphabet, is expanding its presence in the eastern U.S. The company said Thursday it would be opening offices in Pittsburgh, joining a growing suite of companies developing and testing autonomous vehicle technology in the Steel City.
The company will start by hiring around a dozen engineers, a source familiar with the move told TechCrunch, and they’ll co-locate in Google’s existing offices in the Bakery Square district. As of Thursday, only around three open positions for the Pittsburgh area were listed on Waymo’s website, but the company will be adding more roles soon.
Some of the new team will come from Pittsburgh-based RobotWits, a tech startup focused on autonomous vehicle decision-making. That includes RobotWits’ founder and CEO Maxim Likhachev, and other members of its engineering and technical team. While Waymo did not technically acquire the startup, it did acquire RobotWits’ IP rights, the source said.
There are no current plans to deploy the so-called Waymo Driver, its autonomous driving platform, in Pittsburgh, the source added. Instead, the new team will work on motion planning development, real-time route planning and developing Driver. Thus far, Driver has seen deployment in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area. Its Waymo Via trucking and cargo service will be deployed in a test run with trucking logistics company J.B. Hunt Transport Services in Texas.
AV tech rivals Aurora, Motional, Argo AI have already established offices in the city; combined with talent at Carnegie Melon University, the city has established itself as a bona fide hub for autonomous engineering development. Pittsburgh is also home to many smaller AV startups, including Locomation, which is working on autonomous trucks.
Waymo’s Pittsburgh location will join its network of offices in Mountain View, San Francisco, Phoenix, New York, Dallas and Hyderabad, India.
The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.
Hello and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.
A few Extra Crunch items highlight before we jump into things. This week, we published an interview with Refraction AI co-founder and CTO Matthew Johnson-Roberson as part of an ongoing series focused on transportation founders. TechCrunch has been following autonomous delivery startup since it came out of stealth on our stage in 2019. Refraction, which built its vehicle to travel in bike lanes up to 15 miles per hour, has been testing in AnnArbor, Michigan. Now, it’s expanding to Austin. Our interview with Johnson-Roberson reveals the premise behind the company, what prompted him to step down as CEO and some of the challenges in the industry. The twist with this series? We plan to check in on every founder we interview a year after their Q&A is published.
Later this month, we’ll feature an interview with Candice Xie, the CEO and co-founder of Veo.
Finally, we have a fresh round of recaps from the TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event held June 9. Each recap provides a rundown of the conversation as well as some key quotes from our panelists. The recaps also include the video of the session.
- How autonomous delivery startups are navigating policy, partnerships, and post-pandemic operations
- Experts from Ford, Toyota and Hyundai outline why automakers are pouring money into robotics
- Investors Clara Brenner, Quin Garcia and Rachel Holt on SPACs, micromobility and how COVID-19 shaped VC
- Founders Ben Schippers and Evette Ellis are riding the EV sales wave
- Mobility startups can be equitable, accessible and profitable
Deal of the week
Taking autonomous vehicle technology from the “lab,” — ok, from the closed track — to commercial scale is a pricey endeavor. Not every AV developer has success raising money or access to debt. Waymo does.
The company has raised another $2.5 billion in external funding about 15 months after its first external round brought in $2.25 billion. (That round was later expanded by $700 million a few months later.) The round appears to be mostly existing investors including parent company Alphabet, Andreessen Horowitz, AutoNation, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Magna International, Mubadala Investment Company, Perry Creek Capital, Silver Lake, funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., Temasek. Tiger Global was the investor newcomer.
The funding announcement comes a few months after CEO John Krafcik left the company after five years in the position. The CEO position is now being held jointly by Tekedra Mawakana, former COO, and Dmitri Dolgov, who joined the original self-driving project at Google and was CTO.
More than $2 billion is a hefty haul. Although numerous folks, some of whom are in the financial sector, reached out to me to share reactions of surprise that it wasn’t larger. I’m more interested in how that money is being put to work. Waymo has now brought in nearly $6 billion in outside investment since March 2020.
Other deals that my attention …
Bringg, a software developer focused on helping retailers with last-mile logistics, raised $100 million in a Series E round of funding led by Insight Partners. Salesforce Ventures, Viola Growth, Next 47, Pereg Ventures, Harlap, GLP and Cambridge Capital — all previous backers — also invested. Bringg CEO Guy Bloch told TechCrunch that the funding will be used both to continue growing Bringg’s customer base, but also the company’s ca
CAI International, the tansportation finance and logistics company, agreed to a $1.1 billion takeover by Mitsubishi HC Capital. This is an all-stock deal that is comprised of $104 million worth of preferred stock and $986 million of common stock equity value, Reuters reported.
Cambridge Mobile Telematics, a mobile telematics and analytics, has acquired TrueMotion. The company didn’t disclose the terms. CMT will now provide telematics services to 21 out of the 25 largest auto insurers in the United States, and across more than 20 countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, South Africa, Japan and Australia.
Cruise, the self-driving subsidiary of GM, secured a $5 billion line of credit from the automaker’s financial arm to pay for hundreds of purpose-built electric and autonomous Origin vehicles as they start to roll off the assembly line. The access to the credit provided by GM Financial will push Cruise’s “total war chest” to more than $10 billion as it prepares for commercialization, CEO Dan Ammann wrote in a blog post. In short: the credit will be used to buy these Cruise Origins from GM, which is assembling the autonomous vehicles at its renamed and renovated Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant. The factory is now called Factory ZERO.
Electriphi, a battery management and fleet monitoring software startup based in San Francisco, was acquired by Ford. The acquisition, the terms of which neither party would disclose, aims to round out Ford’s future EV commercial business. The automaker already has two electric commercial vehicles in pipeline, the E-transit cargo and F-150 Lighting Pro pickup truck. Ford is betting that the software developed by the three-year-old San Francisco startup will help it capture more than $1 billion in revenue just from charging by 2030.
Gopuff, the on-demand goods, food and alcohol delivery service, acquired fleet management platform rideOS for $115 million, sources familiar with the deal told TechCrunch. This acquisition comes just a few months after the Philadelphia-based startup announced a $1.15 billion funding round at a $8.9 billion valuation, up from $3.9 billion in October. Last fall, the company also raised $380 million and bought BevMo, a beverage retailer. Gopuff did not share its updated valuation with this new acquisition.
KeepTruckin, a hardware and software developer that helps trucking fleets manage vehicle, cargo and driver safety, raised $190 million in a Series E funding round, which puts the company’s valuation at over $2 billion, according to CEO Shoaib Makani. G2 Venture Partners, which just raised a $500 million fund to help modernize existing industries, participated in the round, alongside existing backers Greenoaks Capital, Index Ventures, IVP and Scale Venture Partners and funds managed by BlackRock.
Kodiak Robotics, the Silicon Valley-based startup developing autonomous trucks, has a new investor. Tire-making giant Bridgestone has taken a minority stake in the AV startup as part of a broader partnership to test and develop smart tire technology. While the terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, Kodiak Robotics co-founder and CEO Don Burnette told TechCrunch that this is a direct financial investment. Bridgestone CTO Nizar Trigui has also joined the Kodiak board as an observer. The two companies also formed a strategic partnership focused on advancing Bridgestone’s tire tech and fleet management system.
MachineMetrics, a data startup focused on manufacturing, raised $20 million in Series B round led by industrial automation and robotics Teradyne. Ridgeline Ventures also participated along with existing investors Tola Capital and Hyperplane.
Mister Car Wash, a car wash company owned by Leonard Green & Partners and based in my hometown, has set the terms for its initial public offering. The company said in a regulatory filing that it will issue 37.5 million with the expectation of a per share price between $15 and $17.
Motorway, a U.K. startup that allows professional car dealers to bid in an auction for privately owned cars for sale, raised £48 million ($67.7 million) in a Series B round led by Index Ventures, along with new investors BMW iVentures and Unbound. Existing investors Latitude and Marchmont Ventures also participated. The funding will be used to extend its platform and grow the current 160-strong team.
PayCargo, the Freight payment platform company, raised $125 million in a Series B round led by Insight Partners.
Solid Power, a solid-state battery developer backed by Ford and BMW, locked in a deal to merge with special purpose acquisition company Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corp III, at a post-deal implied market valuation of $1.2 billion. The transaction is expected to generate around $600 million in cash, including a $165 million private investment in public equity (PIPE) transaction from investors Koch Strategic Platforms, Riverstone Energy Limited, Neuberger Berman and Van Eck Associates Corporation.
Vertical Aerospace is yet another electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft startup to take the SPAC path to the public markets. The UK-based eVTOL developer, which is backed by American Airlines, Avolon, Honeywell, Rolls-Royce and Microsoft’s M12, has agreed to merge with special purposed acquisition company Broadstone Acquisition Corp., at an implied $2.2 billion valuation.
Woven Capital made an undisclosed investment in Ridecell, a platform powering digital transformations and IoT automation for fleet-driven businesses. Woven Capital is an $800 million global investment fund that supports innovative, growth-stage companies in mobility, automation, artificial intelligence, data and analytics, connectivity, and smart cities. It is the investment arm of the Woven Planet Group, a Toyota subsidiary which is dedicated to building the safest mobility in the world. Along with the investment, Ridecell and the Woven Planet Group will explore collaborative opportunities in mobility service operations.
Hints at Argo’s future
You might have noticed under “deal of the week” that Ford acquired a fleet management and charging monitor software company called Electriphi. When the deal was announced, I found myself wondering aloud if the software would be used by the company for its eventual commercial fleet of robotaxis? And that got me thinking about Argo AI, the startup developing the self-driving system for backers Ford and VW.
I was pointed to some comments made Ford CEO Jim Farley, which suggests that maybe Argo will play a larger role in commercial operations than expected. Farley was asked during the Deutsche Bank’s Global Auto Industry Conference what he thought about the convergence between what Argo will be offering and I guess Ford in terms of business model?
Farley’s response: “Well, that’s a good question. I think Argo has proven to be very adaptive business, not just the technology. My personal opinion is that I think they deserve the opportunity to be a one-stop shop company and that they will take on more of the go-to-market responsibilities for our AV effort.”
Welcome to Policy Corner. It’s a (relatively) short one this week folks. As a reminder, if there’s any policy or regulatory news (or tips!) that you think merits inclusion in the Corner, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Autonomous vehicle developers Nuro and Cruise, along with three other entities, have formed a new coalition to support a California bill that would require AVs to be zero emission by 2030. TechCrunch’s Rebecca Bellan was the first to cover the bill back in March. Notably absent from this coalition are Argo AI, which has Ford and VW has backers and customers, as well several other legacy automakers. John Davis, chief engineer at Ford Autonomous Vehicles, told Bellan back in March that the computing demands of an AV platform means that it may make more sense to transition first to a hybrid model before going full EV.
For Cruise’s part, it makes sense that they’d want to ratchet up their support of the bill, especially after news broke that earlier this week they’d taken out a $5 billion line of credit to ramp up production of their electric Cruise Origin AV.
EV proponents are fired up about the possibility of taxing EVs as one way to fund the massive infrastructure investments that are currently being debated in Washington. The proposal is being mulled by legislators as they continue to negotiate the infrastructure package. Joe Britton, the Executive Director of the Zero Emission Transportation Association, called the tax proposal “the brainchild of those who want to unfairly punish EV drivers and hinder clean vehicle deployment.”
It seems that an EV tax could be the sacrificial lamb that some legislators are looking for, but it is important to note — as ZETA does — that battery electric vehicles are still only around 1% of the cars on the road.
— Aria Alamalhodaei
Notable reads and other tidbits
Here are a few more final items to wrap up The Station.
Pony.ai, the robotaxi startup that operates in China and the United States, has started testing driverless vehicles on public roads in California ahead of plans to launch a commercial service there in 2022. The company said the driverless vehicle testing, which means the autonomous vehicles operate without human safety drivers behind the wheel, is happening daily on public roads in Fremont and Milpitas, California. Pony.ai is also testing its driverless vehicles in Guangzhou, China. Pony.ai said it also plans to resume a rideshare service to the public in Irvine this summer using AVs with a human safety driver. Its goal is to roll out the fully driverless service to the public in 2022.
EVs and hydrogen
Canoo, the electric vehicle startup that recently became a publicly traded company through a merger with a SPAC, made a number of announcements during its investor day event. First on the list was news that the company plans to build a factory in Oklahoma that will employ up to 2,000 workers. The factory will be located on a 400-acre site in the MidAmerica Industrial Park in Pryor, Oklahoma about 45 minutes from Tulsa. The facility, which the company describes as a “mega microfactory” will include a paint shop, body shop and general assembly plant and is expected to open in 2023.
Canoo also laid out its plans for automated driving, which I haven’t heard much about until now. The details were thin, but Canoo is planning to have its vehicles equipped with “Level 2” advanced driver assistance system, which means two primary functions — like adaptive cruise and lane keeping — are automated and still have a human driver in the loop at all times. From there, it seems the company is taking the Tesla approach and believes it can reach Level 4 autonomy through software improvements. To be clearm, Tesla is nowhere near Level 4 autonomy, which means the vehicle ccan handle all driving without the driver in the loop in certain geographic areas or conditiions. Here is the Canoo CTO’s comments about this.
We’ve got an ADAS system ready for launch at Level 2, with all of the basic features, but we’ve got an OTA system — over the air upgradability — so as we continue to refine and mature and validate additional features in ADAS, we’re going to be able to upgrade over time and with our ADAS compute platform, along with the sensor suite we believe will ultimately get us to around Level 4.
Lordstown Motors is digging itself deeper into a hole it seems. The company’s CEO and CFO resigned following a less than stellar first quarter results in May, including news that production volumes would likely be half — from around 2,200 vehicles to just 1,000 — should the company not identify more funding. But wait. What is this?
The following day, hope was restored when interim CEO Angela Strand and President Rich Schmidt made a series of statements at an Automotive Press Association event that drove up shares in the company, including that it has enough “binding orders” from customers to fund limited production of its electric pickup truck through May 2022. Ah but hold tight because the next day Lordstown issued a regulatory filing that reversed those claims.
It appears those “binding orders” were more like agreements to maybe lease or buy.
Jaguar Land Rover is developing a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle based on the new Defender SUV, and plans to begin testing the prototype next year. The prototype program, known as Project Zeus, is part of JLR’s larger aim to only produce zero-tailpipe emissions vehicles by 2036. JLR has also made a commitment to have zero carbon emissions across its supply chain, products and operations by 2039. The automaker has also tapped AVL, Delta Motorsport, Marelli Automotive Systems and the U.K. Battery Industrialization Center to help develop the prototype.
Nuro, the autonomous delivery startup, is expanding into parcel logistics through a partnership with FedEx. The multiyear, multiphased strategic partnership aims to test and ultimately deploy Nuro’s next-generation autonomous delivery vehicle within FedEx operations. This bot will follow Nuro’s more recent R2 bot. The deal with FedEx marks its first foray into parcels logistics. The pilot program has already started in Houston. This multiyear commitment will allow Nuro to bring its technology to more people in new ways, and eventually reach large-scale deployment, according to Cosimo Leipold, Nuro’s head of partnerships.
Polestar, Volvo Car Group’s standalone electric performance brand, will manufacture its first all-electric SUV in the United States. The automaker said the Polestar 3 will be assembled at a plant shared with Volvo Cars at a factory in Ridgeville, South Carolina. The Polestar 3 follows the all-electric Polestar 2 sedan and the hybrid grand tourer Polestar 1. Production of Polestar 3 is expected to begin globally in 2022.
Amazon Web Services entered into an agreement with Ferrari to become their official cloud provider, a deal that aims to help the luxury automaker’s Scuderia Ferrari Formula One racing team launch a digital fan engagement platform via its mobile app.
Android Auto has some new updates including personalizing the launcher screen directly from a user’s smartphone and manually setting dark mode. Browsing content is also supposed to be easier with new tabs in media apps, a “back to top” option and an A to Z button in the scroll bar. New app experiences have also been added to help with EV charging, parking and navigation apps are now available to use in Android Auto. Users will also be able to read and send new messages directly from apps like WhatsApp or Messages — now available globally. These Android Auto features are available on phones running Android 6.0 or above, and when connected to your compatible car.
Other transportation stuff
Financial Times digs into the sticky issue of Chinese surveillance technology that is used in ‘smart cities’ all over the world.
GM upped the amount it says it will spend on electric and autonomous vehicle investments to $35 billion through 2025 — an $8 billion increase from its previous plan announced in November 2020.
Lux Research released a study showing that in 2020 electric vehicles sales, meaning battery and plug-ins, increased 37% compared to 2019. The sales growth was led by 140% growth in Europe as the BEV market took off in several countries. The report noted that while Tesla remains the most popular BEV maker, but its choice of cells from LG Energy Solution in China means Panasonic lost the market share crown it had held since 2013.
Redwood Materials, the battery recycling startup founded by former Tesla CTO JB Straubel, has purchased 100 acres of land near the Gigafactory that Panasonic operates with Tesla in Sparks, Nevada as part of an expansion plan that aligns with the Biden Administration’s drive to increase adoption of electric vehicles and boost domestic battery recycling and supply chain efforts. The company said its existing 150,000-square-foot facility in Carson City, Nevada will also nearly triple in size. Redwood is adding another 400,000 square feet onto the Carson City recycling facility, which is expected to be operational by the end of the year.
Waymo, Google’s former self-driving project that is now a business unit under Alphabet, said Wednesday it raised $2.5 billion in its second outside funding round. The company said in a blog post it will use the funds to continue growing Waymo Driver, its autonomous driving platform, and growing its team.
The round saw participation from existing investors Alphabet, Andreessen Horowitz, AutoNation, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Magna International, Mubadala Investment Company, Perry Creek Capital, Silver Lake, funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., Temasek, and additional investor Tiger Global.
The news comes only a few months after former CEO John Krafcik announced in April that he was stepping down from leading the company after five years in the position. The CEO position is now being held jointly by Tekedra Mawakana, former COO, and Dmitri Dolgov, who joined the original self-driving project at Google and was CTO.
Krafcik led the company through its first external $2.25 billion investment round in March 2020. That round was later expanded by $700 million a few months later. But Krafcik could be a polarizing figure in the company, as TechCrunch’s Kirsten Korosec noted.
In addition to its Waymo One commercial ride-hailing service, which operates in the Metro Phoenix, Arizona area, the company has continued to build out its Waymo Via trucking and cargo transportation service. Earlier this month Waymo announced it was entering a “test run” with J.B. Hunt for transportation services between Houston and Fort Worth.
Inside Silicon Valley’s 10-year quest to make soaring above a crowded city street as easy as calling an Uber.
AutoX, Momenta and WeRide took the stage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to discuss the state of robotaxi startups in China and their relationships with local governments in the country.
They also talked about overseas expansion — a common trajectory for China’s top autonomous vehicle startups — and shed light on the challenges and opportunities for foreign AV companies eyeing the massive Chinese market.
Worldwide, regulations play a great role in the development of autonomous vehicles. In China, policymaking for autonomous driving is driven from the bottom up rather than a top-down effort by the central government, observed executives from the three Chinese robotaxi startups.
Huan Sun, Europe general manager at Momenta, which is backed by the government of Suzhou, a city near Shanghai, said her company had a “very good experience” working with the municipal governments across multiple cities.
In China, each local government is incentivized to really act like entrepreneurs like us. They are very progressive in developing the local economy… What we feel is that autonomous driving technology can greatly improve and upgrade the [local governments’] economic structure. (Time stamp: 02:56)
Shenzhen, a special economic zone with considerable lawmaking autonomy, is just as progressive in propelling autonomous driving forward, said Jewel Li, chief operation officer at AutoX, which is based in the southern city.
On Thursday morning, Waymo announced that it is working with trucking company JB Hunt to autonomously haul cargo loads in Texas. Class 8 JB Hunt trucks equipped with the autonomous driving software and hardware system called Waymo Driver will operate on I-45 in Texas, taking cargo between Houston and Fort Worth.
However, the trucks will still carry humans—a trained truck driver and Waymo technicians—to supervise and take over if necessary.
Although Waymo is better known for the autonomous taxi service it operates in a suburb of Phoenix, the company started experimenting with adding its autonomous technology to freight haulers several years ago. And in 2018, it began testing those trucks in the Atlanta area. What makes today’s news more notable is the partnership with a major truck operator.
Waymo will be moving freight for a major customer of transportation logistics company J.B. Hunt Transport Services under what the two companies are calling a “test run” that will take place in one of the country’s busiest trade corridors.
Waymo Via, the company’s trucking and cargo transportation service, will transport goods along Interstate 45 between Houston and Fort Worth, Texas. The trucks will be powered by the Waymo Driver autonomous platform, though a Waymo “autonomous specialists,” a commercially-licensed truck driver and a software technician will be riding in each truck to monitor the operations.
This is not the first time J.B. Hunt and Waymo, an Alphabet subsidiary, have worked together. It seems the companies have been preparing for a trial deployment of autonomous trucks for some time.
“We’ve also worked closely with J.B. Hunt for some time now on operational and market studies and will continue to do so as we roll out autonomous driving technology,” Waymo said in a blog post. “We’ve explored topics such as best practices for regular maintenance, what future facility layouts will look like, and which lanes are best suited for autonomous driving technology, to help ensure long-term preparedness on both sides.”
Waymo declined to share with TechCrunch the specific number of trucks that will be used for the test run, but a spokesperson said that it will be a limited duration pilot “with the goal of jointly developing a long term plan for how our companies can work together.”
Waymo Driver is a Level 4 platform, meaning that it could theoretically operate without a human safety driver behind the wheel, but only under certain conditions (like clear weather).
The autonomous driving company has also partnered with Daimler Trucks to equip Daimler freightliners with the Waymo Driver. That’s in addition to partnerships with Volvo to develop electric robotaxis, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for autonomous cargo vans.
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Hello and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.
We are days away from TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a one-day virtual event scheduled for June 9 that is bringing together some of the best and brightest minds in transportation. I’ll keep it short and sweet.
If you want to check things out but are short on cash, register and type in “station” for a free pass to the expo and breakout sessions. If you want access to the main stage — where folks like Mate Rimac, Chris Urmson and GM’s Pam Fletcher will be interviewed — then type in “Station50” to buy a full access pass for a 50% discount. Tickets can be accessed here.
Buying a ticket will also give you a months-free subscription to Extra Crunch and access to all the videos of the conference. We have a star-studded group of folks coming from Aurora, AutoX, Gatik, GM, Hyundai, Joby Aviation, Motional, Nuro, Rimac Automobili, Scale AI, Starship Technologies, Toyota Research Institute, WeRide, and Zoox. (to name a handful).
The big micromobility news of the week revolves around Spin, and it’s not about whether or not Ford is spinning out the company; they kept a pretty tight lip on that, but clearly big changes are happening. Co-founder Derrick Ko is stepping down as CEO and moving into an advisory role, along with his other two co-founders Zaizhuang Cheng and Euwyn Poon. In Ko’s place is Ben Bear, who previously served as CBO of Spin.
Along with this news came a flurry of other announcements, but it makes sense to start with Spin’s latest public strategy for winning the e-scooter business. Spin is actively seeking out limited vendor permits with cities. In other words, the company doesn’t want to see its cities messing around with other operators. Spin is seeking exclusive partnerships and is prepared to better itself to get them. It’s positioning itself as the most desirable for cities as it shares even more news…
If Spin wants to have a kind of deal that Lyft-owned CitiBike has with NYC, then it needs to bring more to the table. It’s starting with e-bikes. 5,000 of them, to be specific, in the coming months, starting with Providence, RI in June and spreading outward into a few other mid-tier cities over the summer.
Spin is also flexing its tech that will help make its scooters safe and reliable — just what a city wants in a long-term commitment. This week, it brought its Drover AI-equipped scooters to Milwaukee (with plans to launch in Miami, Seattle and Santa Monica, as well) that are equipped to detect sidewalk and bike lane riding and validate parking. Seattle, Santa Monica and Boise, Idaho will soon be graced by Spin’s new S-200, a three-wheeled adaptive scooter built with Tortoise’s repositioning software that allows a remote operator to move scooters out of gutters or into more dense urban areas.
Tier gets some more money
Berlin-based Tier Mobility, which recently won a London permit, has raised $60 million so it can expand its fleet of vehicles and battery charging networks. Technically, it’s a loan. The asset-backed financing comes from Goldman Sachs.
Let’s talk about bikes
Lyft has got a new e-bike piloting this month, starting in San Francisco, then Chicago and New York. It’ll be dropping the sleek, white bikes with soft purple LEDs at random around the city for people to test out. TechCrunch’s Brian Heater gave it a spin, and his general consensus was, Yeah, it’s a good bike. Can’t complain.
While Lyft may have anti-theft protection on its e-bikes, the rest of us are not so lucky. According to market research company NPD Group, we saw a 63% YOY growth for bike sales in June. Bike Index, a national bike registry group, tells us that the number of bikes stolen has seen similar increases. The number of bikes reported stolen to the service was a little over 10,000 between April and September, compared to nearly 6,000 during the same period in the previous year. That’s an uptick of nearly 68%. So, when are apartment complexes going to be forced to build bike storage rather than car parks?
Best cities for biking
If you are going to risk theft and bike around, you’ll want to do it in one of the cities PeopleForBikes just announced are the best for biking.
“Topping this year’s ratings in the United States are Brooklyn, NY; Berkeley, CA and Provincetown, MA (each ranking first in the large, medium and small U.S. city categories, respectively). Top international performers include Canberra and Alice Springs in Australia; Utrecht and Groningen in the Netherlands and Gatineau, Longueuil and Montreal in Canada, all located in the province of Quebec.”
Biking is not all about fun and commuting. For some of us, it’s work. URB-E, the compact container delivery network that wants to replace trucks with small electric bikes, has announced PackItFresh as its final-mile refrigeration provider. PackItFresh’s totes can keep food at safe temperatures for up to 24 hours, yet another reason supermarkets need to be nixing the delivery trucks in favor of these more sustainable alternatives.
— Rebecca Bellan
Deal of the week
I hesitate to put this one under deal of the week, because, well, the deal ain’t done. But it is interesting, and this is my show, so here we are. I’m talking about Aurora, the autonomous vehicle company, and a potential merger with a special purpose acquisition company.
Here’s the tl;dr for those who didn’t catch my Friday story. Several sources within the financial sector told me that Aurora is close to finalizing a deal to merge with Reinvent Technology Partners Y, the newest special purpose acquisition company launched by LinkedIn co-founder and investor Reid Hoffman, Zynga founder Mark Pincus and managing partner Michael Thompson. It appears the valuation is going to be somewhere in the $12 billion neighborhood. The deal is expected to be announced as early as next week. I should add that both Aurora and Reinivent declined to comment.
The Hoffman, Pincus, Thompson trio, who are bullish on a concept that they call “venture capital at scale,” have formed three SPACs, or blank-check companies. Two of those SPACs have announced mergers with private companies. Reinvent Technology Partners announced a deal in February to merge with the electric vertical take off and landing company Joby Aviation, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange later this year. Reinvent Technology Partners Z merged with home insurance startup Hippo.
Is it possible that the deal could fall apart? Sure. But my sources tell me that it has progressed far enough that it would take a significant issue to derail the agreement. One more note: there is the tricky issue of Hoffman and Reinvent’s existing relationship with Aurora. Hoffman is a board member of Aurora and Reinvent is an investor. While Hoffman and Reinvent showing up on two sides of a SPAC deal would be unusual, it is not unprecedented. Connie Loizos’s accompanying article digs into the increasing cases of conflicts of interest popping up in SPAC deals.
Other deals that got my attention …
Getir, the Istanbul-based grocery delivery app, raised $550m in new funding. This latest injection of capital, which tripled its valuation to $7.5 billion, came just three months after its last financing, the Financial Times reported. The company, which just started to expand outside of Turkey in early 2021, is now planning a U.S. launch this year.
Faction Technology, the Silicon Valley-based startup building three-wheeled electric vehicles for autonomous delivery or human driven jaunts around town, raised $4.3 million in seed funding led by Trucks VC and Fifty Years.
Flink, a Berlin-based on-demand “instant” grocery delivery service built around self-operated dark stores and a smaller assortment (2,400 items) that it says it will deliver in 10 minutes or less, has raised $240 million to expand its business into more cities, and more countries.
FlixMobility, the parent company of the FlixBus coach network and the FlixTrain rail service, has closed more than $650 million in a Series G round of funding that values the Munich-based company at over $3 billion. Jochen Engert, who co-founded and co-leads the company with André Schwämmlein, described the round in a press call that TechCrunch participated in as a “balanced” mix of equity and debt, and said that the plan will be to use the funds to both expand its network in the U.S. market as well as across Europe.
Locus, a startup that uses AI to help businesses map out their logistics, raised $50 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its presence. The new round, a Series C, was led by Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC. Qualcomm Ventures and existing investors Tiger Global Management and Falcon Edge also participated in the round, which brings the startup’s to-date raise to $79 million. The new round valued the startup, which was founded in India, at about $300 million, said a person familiar with the matter.
Realtime Robotics announced a $31.4 million round. The funding is part of the $11.7 million Series A the company announced all the way back in late 2019. Investors include HAHN Automation, SAIC Capital Management, Soundproof Ventures , Heroic Ventures, SPARX Asset Management, Omron Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Scrum Ventures and Duke Angels.
Roadster, the Palo Alto-based digital platform that gives dealers tools to sell new and used vehicles online has been acquired for $360 million by retail automotive technology company CDK Global Inc. As part of the all-cash deal, Roadster is now a wholly owned subsidiary.
Sennder, a digital freight forwarder that focuses on moving cargo around Europe (and specifically focusing on trucks and “full truck load”, FTL, freight forwarding), has raised $80 million in funding, at a valuation the company confirms is now over $1 billion.
Toyota AI Ventures, Toyota’s standalone venture capital fund, dropped the “AI” and has been reborn as, simply, Toyota Ventures. The firm is commemorating its new identity with a new $300 million fund that will focus on emerging technologies and carbon neutrality. The capital is split into two early-stage funds: the Toyota Ventures Frontier Fund and the Toyota Ventures Climate Fund. The introduction of these two new funds brings Toyota Ventures’ total assets under management to over $500 million
Trellis Technologies, the insurance technology platform, raised $10 million in Series A funding led by QED Investors with participation from existing investors NYCA Partners and General Catalyst.
VTB, Russia’s second-largest lender, has bought a $75 million minority stake in car-sharing provider Delimobil, Reuters reported.
Waymo: by the numbers
Waymo has been on my mind lately — and not because of the executive departures that I wrote about last month. No, I’ve been thinking about Waymo and how, or if, it’s been scaling up its Waymo One driverless ride-hailing service, which operates in several Phoenix suburbs. The latest example is that Waymo One can now be accessed and booked through Google Maps.
But what about ridership? The folks at Sensor Tower, the mobile app market intelligence firm, recently shared some numbers that give the tiniest of glimpses into who is at least interested in trying the service.
First, a bit of history. Waymo started an early rider program in April 2017, which allowed vetted members of the public, all of whom signed NDAs, to hail an autonomous Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan. All of these Waymo-branded vans had human safety operators behind the wheel.
In December 2018, the company launched Waymo One, the self-driving car service and accompanying app. Waymo-trained test drivers were still behind the wheel when the ride-hailing service began. Early rider program members were the first to be invited to the service. As these folks were shifted over to the Waymo One service, the NDA was lifted.
The first meaningful signs that Waymo was ready to put people in vehicles without human safety operators popped up in fall 2019. TechCrunch contributor Ed Niedermeyer was among the first (media) to hail a driverless ride. These driverless rides were limited and free. And importantly, still fell under the early rider program, which had that extra NDA protection. Waymo slowly scaled until about 5 to 10% of its total rides in 2020 were fully driverless for its exclusive group of early riders under NDA. Then COVID-19 hit.
In October 2020, the company announced that members of Waymo One — remember this is the sans NDA service — would be able to take family and friends along on their fully driverless rides in the Phoenix area. Existing Waymo One members were given first access to the driverless rides. The company started to welcome more people directly into the service through its app, which is available on Google Play and the App Store.
Waymo said that 100% of its rides would be fully driverless, which it has maintained. Today, anyone can download the app and hail a driverless ride.
OK, back to the numbers. Sensor Tower shared monthly estimates for Waymo’s installs from the U.S. App Store and Google Play. The company said that most of the installs are on iOS, as it looks like the Waymo app only became available on Android in April 2021. This isn’t a ridership number. It does show how interest has grown, and picked up since February 2021.
Hi folks, welcome back to Policy Corner.
Another infrastructure bill was proposed in Washington this week. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure introduced a new bill that would invest $547 billion over the next five years on surface transport. While much of those funds would go toward improving America’s roads, bridges, and passenger rail, the INVEST in America Act would dedicate around $4 billion in electric vehicle charging infrastructure and around $4 billion to invest in zero-emission transit vehicles.
And that’s in addition to major infrastructure bills already proposed by President Joe Biden and House Democrats. It’s likely that this bill, should it pass, would be significantly scaled back — just as Congressional Republicans are attempting to do with Biden’s infrastructure plan. You can read more about the bill here.
President Biden has set his sights on battery manufacturing as a way to recover and reuse critical minerals in the EV supply chain. This is after it was reported that he walked back earlier signals that he might support domestic mining for these minerals, like lithium. Instead, it looks like his plan is to push for continued importing of the metals from foreign countries and then to recycle and reuse them at the end of a battery’s life.
This news is a blow to America’s mining industry but sure to be a boost for metal recyclers, like Redwood Materials in Nevada and Canadian company Li-Cycle, which is expanding its operations in the States.
Some of the biggest pushback against mining has come from environmental and conservation groups. A good example is the situation currently unfolding out in Nevada, where a proposed lithium mine may be halted due to the presence of a rare wildflower. Conservation groups want to get protected status for the flower. If they succeed? No more mine.
The final piece of news this week is a recent survey from Pew Research Center which found that 51% of Americans oppose phasing out the production of gas-powered cars and trucks. The report also found that those reported hearing “a lot” about EVs were more likely to seriously consider one for their next vehicle purchase. Also, while Americans are roughly in agreement that EVs are better for the environment, they’re equally in agreement that they’re more costly.
The upshot is that more and more Americans are coming around to the idea of EVs and the question of their benefits (on the environment, for example) is pretty well understood. But policymakers and OEMs clearly still have a ways to go in convincing a huge swathe of Americans to get on board.
— Aria Alamalhodaei
A few more notes
I won’t be providing the looooonnnnggggg roundup of news this week, but here are a few little bits including some hires and other tidbits.
7-Eleven said it plans to install 500 direct-current fast charging ports at 250 locations across North America by the end of 2022. These charging ports will be owned and operated by 7-Eleven, as opposed to fuel at its filling stations, which must be purchased from suppliers.
Baraja, the lidar startup, appointed former Magna and DaimlerChrysler veterans to its executive team, including Paul Eichenberg as chief strategy officer and Jim Kane as vp of automotive engineering.
Brian Heater, hardware editor here at TechCrunch, covered a recent gathering of ride-hailing drivers in Long Island City, Queens. The group protested outside of Uber’s offices ahead of a proposed state bill. The drivers support the proposed bill that would make it easy for gig economy workers in the state to unionize.
Cruise, the autonomous vehicle subsidiary of GM that also has backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, Microsoft and Honda, has secured a permit that will allow the company to shuttle passengers in its test vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel.
The permit, issued by the California Public Utilities Commission as part of its driverless pilot program, is one of several regulatory requirements autonomous vehicle companies must meet before they can deploy commercially. This permit is important — and Cruise is the first to land this particular one — but it does not allow the company to charge passengers for any rides in test AVs.
DeepMap has developed a crowdsourced mapping service called RoadMemory that lets automakers turn data collected from their own fleets of passenger vehicles and trucks into maps. The company says the tool is designed to expand geographic coverage more quickly and support hands-off autonomous driving features everywhere.
Joby Aviation is partnering with REEF Technology, one of the country’s largest parking garage operators, and a real estate acquisition company Neighborhood Property Group to build out its network of vertiports, with an initial focus on Los Angeles, Miami, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Populus, the platform that helps cities manage shared mobility services, streets and curbs, launched a new digital car-sharing parking feature in Oakland. The gist is that this feature helps cities collect data on car-sharing and deploy curbside paying payments. The company launched this particular product in 2018 and has been expanding to different cities.
Starship Technologies, the autonomous sidewalk delivery startup, has hired a new CEO. The company tapped Alastair Westgarth, the former CEO of Alphabet’s Loon, to lead the company as it looks to expand its robotics delivery service. Loon, Alphabet’s experiment to deliver broadband via high-altitude balloons, was shut down for good at the beginning of this year. Prior to working at Loon, Westgarth headed the wireless antennae company Quintel Solutions, was a vice president at telecommunications company Nortel and director of engineering at Bell Mobility.
Yuri Suzuki, a partner at design consultancy firm Pentagram, recently conducted a research project into the crucial role electric car sound has on a user’s safety, enjoyability, communication and brand recognition, out of which he developed a range of car sounds.
Waymo One, the ride-hailing service that uses driverless vehicles in the suburbs of Phoenix, can now be accessed and booked through Google Maps.
This will be the first fully autonomous ride-hailing option available in the app, which will roll out first to Android users, Waymo said Thursday. The team up not only brings together two Alphabet companies, it signals Waymo’s push to become more visible and accessible to the public.
Waymo has abut 600 vehicles in its U.S. fleet. About 300 to 400 of those are in the Phoenix area, but not all of those are used in the driverless Waymo One fleet. The Waymo One service only uses driverless vehicles, which means that a safety operator is not physically behind the wheel. It also means that if it pops up on Google Maps, users can be assured that it will indeed be driverless. Some vehicles in the Phoenix area are used for testing. Waymo doesn’t share exact numbers of how many driverless vehicles it operates as part of the service.
The process still requires a bit of app hopping. There isn’t a direct way to access, book, and pay for the Waymo One rides in Google Maps. Instead, the user is brought over to the Waymo app to complete the booking. Users first have to input directions to or from a location in Waymo’s Metro Phoenix territory, which includes parts of Chandler, Mesa, and Tempe, from an Android device. Once the user taps on the ridesharing or transit tab, they will see the estimated price and ETA of their trip with Waymo.
Existing Waymo One riders will be directed to the Waymo app to book the ride, while newcomers will be taken to the PlayStore to download it.
Many in Silicon Valley promised that self-driving cars would be a common sight by 2021. Now the industry is resetting expectations and settling in for years of more work.
AI is driving the paradigm shift that is the software industry’s transition to data-centric programming from writing logical statements. Data is now oxygen. The more training data a company gathers, the brighter will its AI-powered products burn.
Why is Tesla so far ahead with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS)? Because no one else has collected as much information — it has data on more than ten billion driven miles, helping it pull ahead of competition like Waymo, which has only about 20 million miles. But any company that is considering using machine learning (ML) cannot overlook one technical choice: supervised or unsupervised learning.
There is a fundamental difference between the two. For unsupervised learning, the process is fairly straightforward: The acquired data is directly fed to the models, and if all goes well, it will identify patterns.
Elon Musk compares unsupervised learning to the human brain, which gets raw data from the six senses and makes sense of it. He recently shared that making unsupervised learning work for ADAS is a major challenge that hasn’t been solved yet.
Supervised learning is currently the most practical approach for most ML challenges. O’Reilly’s 2021 report on AI Adoption in the Enterprise found that 82% of surveyed companies use supervised learning, while only 58% use unsupervised learning. Gartner predicts that through 2022, supervised learning will remain favored by enterprises, arguing that “most of the current economic value gained from ML is based on supervised learning use cases”.
Hello and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.
Here’s a crypto-meets-transportation story for you before we move onto the rest of the news.
Just weeks after Tesla CEO Elon Musk and CFO Zach Kirkhorn said they believe in the longevity of bitcoin, the company has changed its stance. Musk, who has dubbed himself Technoking, tweeted that Tesla has suspended purchases of its electric vehicles with the cryptocurrency because of its concern about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal.
The tweet from Musk sent the price of bitcoin down. Ah, but wait, the crazy hijinks were just getting started. Musk’s tweet was clear that while bitcoin was out, other cryptocurrencies were in. “We are also looking at other cryptocurrencies that use <1% of Bitcoin’s energy/transaction,” the tweet said. Anyone who has followed Musk’s cheerleading of Dogecoin could have predicted what would come next. On May 13, Musk tweeted “Working with Doge devs to improve system transaction efficiency. Potentially promising.”
So there you have it. Perhaps, Dogecoin — which Musk jokingly called a hustle on SNL — will soon be Tesla’s crypto of choice.
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The big micromobility news of the past week is that Bird, the shared electric scooter startup that’s scootin’ around in over 200 cities across three continents, is going public via a SPAC. Bird is merging with blank-check company Switchback II in an attempt to get cash fast and achieve profitability by 2023, confirming earlier reports from dot.LA after the website had gotten its hands on Bird’s investor pitch deck.
Fidelity Management & Research Company will lead the deal’s $160 million in private investment in public equity, with Apollo Investment Corp. and MidCap Financial Trust chucking in another $40 million in asset financing.
The SPAC deck reveals that Bird lost $387.5 million in 2019 and $208.2 million in 2020, even as it laid off 400 people in 2020. As a company with a huge cost structure and unprofitable revenue, which was made more unprofitable as the pandemic took its toll, Bird really needs this deal to work. Shifting business models may be just the thing. Buying up scooter fleets and deploying them around the world is simply too costly to work. Its move to go “franchise” and get other smaller companies to build fleets under its brand name during the pandemic generated 94% of its “sharing” revenue in the second half of 2020. So maybe there’s hope for the company after all. It’ll certainly need it if it intends to sustain its expansion into Europe in the coming years.
Speaking of expansion …
Singapore’s Neuron Mobility, the e-scooter sharing company that’s taken off in Australia and New Zealand, has announced plans to expand its reach deeper into the Commonwealth. Neuron recently won a contract to operate in Ottawa, so it’ll be heading to Canada in the coming month, with more cities in the country to come, according to the company. The company will give out free monthly passes to eligible Public Health and Emergency Service workers in the Canadian capital.
Meanwhile in Africa
Uganda-based, two-wheel ride-hailing platform SafeBoda announced that it had completed 1 million rides in the Nigerian city of Ibadan. For reference, boda-bodas in Uganda, or okadas in Nigeria, are local motorcycle taxis, so SafeBoda is disrupting this offline market while also leading ahead of the big guns like uberBODA and Bolt boda. Given the money and reputation behind Uber and Bolt, it’s somewhat surprising, and heartening, to see SafeBoda outstripping its competition. The company completes about 80,000 rides a day in Uganda, and Uber and Bolt only complete about 10,000 rides in the country.
New product roundup
Stromer’s new e-bike, the ST2 S-Pedelec comes at a steep price of $5,699, but it’s got some serious power behind it. With a 750-watt rear-wheel CYRO motor and a 618kWh battery, it can go up to 28 mph and up to 75 miles in range. If someone steals the bike, 3G and Bluetooth connection has got you covered with GPS localization and Smartlock. Comes in sport or comfort frames in royal blue or dark grey.
Razor scooter, those iconic early 2000s silver fold-up legends, has unveiled its new RipStik Rush, the electric RipStik 2.0. Sportier riders who like to flex their moves will love this scooter because the back end of the board allows you to fishtail, carve and drift like you would with a snowboard or wakeboard, according to the company. Razor will also be bringing their C25 e-scooter, which is more geared towards the daily commuter, to retail this summer.
— Rebecca Bellan
Deal of the week
Last year, we saw nearly two dozen transportation startups go public via a merger with special purpose acquisition companies. Most of those were electric vehicle and lidar companies. This year, we are starting to see other transportation-related companies, including autonomous trucking startup TuSimple and now Plus AI.
Plus announced this week plans to merge with Hennessy Capital Investment Corp. V in a transaction with a post-combination valuation of $3.3 billion. Plus is expected to trade on the NYSE under the ticker symbol “PLAV.” The transaction is supported by $150 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, from funds and accounts managed by BlackRock and the D. E. Shaw Group.
The company said the capital provided by the public market will help it begin mass production of its so-called PlusDrive autonomous vehicle platform in 2021 with heavy-truck manufacturer FAW. Plus is also working with IVECO to jointly develop autonomous trucks that will be deployed across China, Europe and other geographies, the company said.
Other deals that got my attention this week …
Clarios, the Wisconsin-based battery maker that was acquired by Brookfield Asset Management in 2019, filed confidentially for an IPO, Bloomberg reported. Brookfield is reportedly is seeking to have the portfolio company valued at more than $20 billion in an IPO.
ForU Worldwide, the Chinese freight-as-a-service transportation platform, filed for a $100 million IPO.
Innovusion, a five-year-old lidar company and a supplier to Chinese electric car upstart Nio, just landed a Series B funding round of $64 million. The new proceeds boost its total investment to more than $100 million. As TechCrunch’s Rita Liao notes, this is not a small amount, but the startup is in a race crowded with much bigger players that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, like Velodyne and Luminar. Temasek, the Singaporean government’s sovereign wealth fund, led Innovusion’s latest financing round. Other investors included Bertelsmann Asia Investment Fund, Joy Capital, Nio Capital, Eight Roads Ventures, and F-Prime Capital.
Telkomsel, a unit of Indonesia’s largest telecom operator Telkom, invested an additional $300 million in ride-hailing and payments firm Gojek. The investment comes just months after the network provider wrote a $150 million check to the Southeast Asian firm. The announcement comes amid Gojek working to seal a proposed merger with e-commerce platform Tokopedia. The $18 billion deal would result in a new entity called GoTo, according to media reports. Telkomsel’s investment today likely makes it one of GoTo’s top eight investors.
WeRide, the Chinese autonomous driving company, said it has achieved its Series C funding round that brings its post-money valuation to $3 billion. The round, which WeRide declined to provide details on beyond saying that it is in “the hundreds of millions,” comes four months after securing Series B fundraising of $310 million. WeRide intends to use this funding round to invest in R&D and commercialization as it works toward the next-generation of Level 4 driving, a term that means a vehicle can drive without human intervention in some environments and conditions. The company is also using the funds to prepare to commercialize its technology.
Waymo: Executive exits and construction cones
Waymo’s PR team most certainly had a busy week.
First up, is an article from me on the departure of Waymo’s chief financial officer Ger Dwyer and its head of automotive partnerships and corporate development Adam Frost — two longtime executives at the autonomous vehicle company.
The exits come amid some executive shuffling following CEO John Krafcik’s exit earlier this year. Krafcik announced in April that he was stepping down as CEO. Chief Safety Officer Deborah Hersman left in December and Tim Willis, who was head of manufacturing and global supply and general manager of Waymo’s Laser Bear lidar business, departed in February. Sherry House, who had been at Waymo since 2017 and was most recently treasurer and head of investor relations, left the company in April. She is now CFO at Lucid Motors.
As I noted in my article, some of the critical leaders, and the people directly below them, have remained. Tekedra Mawakana, who was COO, and Dmitri Dolgov, the CTO, are now co-CEOs of Waymo. Department heads directly below Mawakana and Dolgov are still at Waymo with a few exceptions, according to LinkedIn profiles. In March, both David Twohig, who was director of Future Automotive at Waymo, and Qi Hommes, who was once head of system safety, left. Hommes is now director of system safety engineering and analysis at Zoox, according to LinkedIn.
Changes at the top oftentimes cause a ripple effect of shuffling positions and even exits. Expect more in the weeks and months to come.
Meanwhile, a video was released by a regular user of the company’s Waymo One ride-hailing service, which uses a mix of driverless vehicles and those with a safety operator behind the wheel. This individual captured the entire trip, which devolved into a suboptimal situation when the vehicle entered into a work zone with construction cones. The vehicle became confused and essentially paralyzed. Waymo then stepped in remotely to send path planning instructions, but then sent incorrect guidance, which compounded the problem. Eventually, a roadside assistance team physically arrived and completed the trip.
The incident is a reminder of how much work still needs to be done in autonomous vehicles. It also illustrates just how many humans it takes to support one driverless vehicle on the road. Expect more incidents like this across the industry. On a side note, rival Cruise tweeted out a video showing its vehicle navigating a construction zone. I’m sure the timing was completely coincidental.
I’m back with more policy news. This week, let’s kick things off with the U.S. Postal Service.
You might remember that in February, the U.S. Postal Service awarded a multi-billion dollar contract to OshKosh Corp. to replace between 50,000 to 165,000 aging trucks with a mix of diesel and electric powertrain delivery vehicles over the next 10 years. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy later specified to Congress that only around 10% of those new delivery trucks would be electric, a number that many in Washington and beyond argued was not high enough.
“The lack of commitment from the USPS to electrify its fleet directly contradicts the Biden administration’s goals and executive order to clean up pollution from the US government’s vehicles,” said Gina Coplon-Newfield, the director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign.
Now, House lawmakers are advancing a bill that would, in part, authorize an additional $8 billion for the U.S. Postal Service to switch to electric vehicles. The language adding the funds was tacked onto a bill to improve mailed ballot tracking. Given that President Joe Biden said back in January that he is committed to replacing the federal government’s fleet of around 650,000 vehicles with electric models, it was definitely more than a little odd that USPS picked a mixed diesel-electric bid less than one month later.
Meanwhile, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee vetoed a section of a bill that would have phased out the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles starting from model year 2030. This would have been the first time a state mandated all-electric auto sales via legislation, instead of executive order. Of states that have ICE phase outs in place — California and Massachusetts — both were established via orders signed by their respective governors and start in 2035.
— Aria Alamalhodaei
Notable reads and other tidbits
Volkswagen Group and Argo AI, which is supplying the company with a self-driving system that will allow it to commercially transport people and goods by 2025, provided an update this past week. Much of the briefing covered old ground. But there were a few new details, notably that testing will begin on European roads later this year, which builds on initial work completed at a test track that was established next to the Munich airport.
Ford Motor is beefing up its in-vehicle software offerings with built-in Alexa voice assistant and a wireless software update ecosystem. Ford’s over-the-air software updates, which it has branded Power-Up, will have the capability of updating “virtually all” of the computer modules in new Ford vehicles, not just the ones that focus on infotainment, the company said in a statement Thursday. Ford estimates that Power-Up will be able to update more than 80 computer modules on higher-end models. The automaker aims to manufacture 33 million vehicles equipped with this service and Alexa by 2028.
The Information’s Paris Martineau spent five months investigating Amazon and the more than 50 serious crashes involving its semi-trucks used over the last three years.
Arrival, Canoo, Fisker, Lordstown Motors and Nikola Corp were flying high when they went public through mergers with special purpose acquisition companies. A Bloomberg report found these five companies were worth $60 billion when they first went public. But the last few months have delivered some harsh lessons. Three of the companies plunged to new lows this week as short-seller attacks, management turmoil and execution issues led investors to reconsider their prospects. They’ve lost more than $40 billion of market capitalization combined from their respective peaks.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom debuted a new proposal that earmarks $3.2 billion to boost EV infrastructure and adoption in the state. Under the proposal, over half of the $3.2 billion budget would go toward replacing 1,150 trucks, 1,000 transit buses and 1,000 school buses with electric models. Another $800 million would be put toward the state’s Clean Cars 4 All program, which aims to help lower-income drivers upgrade to a zero- or near-zero car, as well as further rebates or clean vehicles. The proposal earmarks $500 million toward infrastructure and $250 million would go toward manufacturing grants. Newsom did not specify what type of infrastructure programs would qualify; it’s likely those funds would go toward charging.
Fisker signed an agreement with Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that assembles iPhones, to co-develop and manufacture a new electric vehicle. Production on the car, which will be sold under the Fisker brand name in North America, Europe, China and India, will begin in the U.S. by the end of 2023.
Ford and BMW have each appointed members to the board of Solid Power, the solid state battery company that recently raised $130 million in a Series B round. Ford picked Ted Miller, manager of electrification subsystems and power supply research, and BMW chose Rainer Feurer, a senior vice president of corporate investments.
Ford also confirmed this week that its all-electric pickup truck will be named the F-150 Lightning, resurrecting a name that once donned the SVT F-150 in the 1990s. The company hasn’t said much about the powertrain, range or other specs. However, Ford President and CEO Jim Farley provided new details about the electric pickup that is coming to market next year. Most notably, it seems that the battery on the Ford F-150 Lightning will have the ability to power a home during an outage. Ford has touted the capability of its Hybrid F-150 to power a job site or tools, but this is the first time the company has said one of its vehicles could act as a backup generator to a home.
Harley-Davidson has spun out its LiveWire electric motorcycle as a standalone brand, complete with a new logo and brand identity. The company first unveiled the LiveWire electric motorcycle in 2018 with a listing price of $29,799, placing it on the higher end for motorcycles. It went into production the following year, with some bumps, including a brief halt to production due to a charging-related problem on one of the motorcycles. The “first LiveWire-branded motorcycle” will launch on July 8. Its public debut will come a day later at the International Motorcycle Show.
Hyundai Motor Group said it will invest $7.4 billion in the U.S. by 2025 — money that will be used to produce future electric vehicles, improve production facilities and develop what the automaker describes as smart mobility solutions. The company is also going to invest in improving electrification and hydrogen energy.
Subaru announced new details about its first-ever EV, which is set to hit the market in 2022. Subaru will call its first EV the Solterra, a fitting name for a brand synonymous with outdoor adventures and you know, the sun and the Earth. Subaru’s first full-fledged EV will be an SUV that ships with the manufacturer’s well-regarded all-wheel-drive capabilities. The Solterra is built on a new platform the company is developing in partnership with Toyota, which the latter company will use for its bZ4X crossover.
Ultium Cells LLC, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Chem, has executed an agreement with Canadian company Li-Cycle to recycle critical materials from the scrap produced from Ultium’s manufacturing processes from its Lordstown plant, starting later in 2021. The materials from the Lordstown location will be sent to Li-Cycle’s recycling location in Rochester, New York, to be processed and returned to the battery supply chain.
Toyota tapped Japanese company ENEOS to help develop the hydrogen fuel cell system that will power its futuristic prototype city Woven City. The vision for the 175-acre city, where people will live and work amongst all of Toyota’s projects, including its autonomous e-Palette shuttles and robots, is to build a fully connected ecosystem powered by hydrogen fuel cells. ENEOS, a Japanese petroleum company that’s investing heavily into hydrogen, will help make Toyota’s “human-centered” city of the future. This new partnership not only signifies Toyota’s backing of hydrogen over electric, but it also could help Japan achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Global consulting firm AlixPartners forecasts that the ongoing semiconductor shortage will cost automakers globally $110 billion in lost revenues this year, up from the firm’s estimate in late January of $61 billion. In total, the firm is now forecasting that production of 3.9 million vehicles in total will be lost in 2021. The pandemic-induced shortage has been compounded by a fire in a key chip-making fabrication plant, severe weather in Texas and a drought in Taiwan, according to Mark Wakefield, global co-leader of the automotive and industrial practice at AlixPartners.
This problem isn’t going away either. There are up to 1,400 chips in a typical vehicle today. The rise in consumer electronics, which the majority of the chip supply goes towards, continues to put pressure on the automotive industry. There has always been a need for supply chain resiliency. But now, there is a broader push from the industry and governments to shore up the supply chain for the long term.
Nexar, a company that makes an AI-based dashcam app to monitor road safety, put 36 vehicles on the streets of Milan in February. While driving around, the company collected images from dash cams and AI to map on-street parking spots and documented 262,163 free street parking spots in a month. This interesting nugget of information is part of a wider study conducted by Nexar to better understand how curbsides are used.
Nexar said the free parking spot identification along with the creation of a crowd-sourced map of such data was accomplished using vision (and specifically car camera vision). One of the goals, the company said, was to demonstrate that vision data can replicate the human understanding of what a parking spot is.
Events and opportunities
There are a number of events coming up — and not just TC Sessions: Mobility 2021.
Ford Motor will hosts its Capital Markets Day on May 26. A webcast will open at 9:15 a.m. EDT and the event will start promptly at 9:30 a.m. EDT. After the presentation, CEO Jim Farley and CFO John Lawler along with other Ford executives host a question-and-answer session with the analyst community. You can check it out here.
The Petersen Automotive Museum is launching a new three-month incubator program that is focused on women-led businesses in the automotive sector. Each year, the museum will choose one California-based startup with five or fewer employees and provide them with hands-on mentorship, access to the Petersen network of sponsors and partners, and a $25,000 to $30,000 investment. Applications are reviewed by the program’s selection committee. Once accepted, the startup will work alongside the Petersen’s mentorship team to develop a custom program that addresses its business goals. Applications are being accepted now through July 31, 2021. Click here to apply.
Self Racing Cars is scheduled for October 16 to 17 2021 at Thunderhill Raceway. If you’re not familiar, the event is organized each year by Joshua Schachter. The event is an autonomous racing series that has a hobbyist-maker vibe. It’s as much about tinkering and troubleshooting as it is about going around the track.
While there are different teams, it is a decidedly collaborative environment. I’ll never forget the first year that Schachter hosted the event. It was here that I first met and befriended AlexRoy, now one of my co-hosts on the Autonocast podcast. It’s where George Hotz of Comma.ai finally got his vehicle around the track (Alex and I in the backseat) and won the competition. And it was where I was introduced to a young and then unknown guy named Austin Russell who was working in stealth on what we would all eventually learn was a lidar company called Luminar.
Check the website for more information and to sign up to participate. Right now, it looks like Nvidia is signed up and that list will likely grow in the coming months. And I hope to see you all there in the fall.
TC Sessions: Mobility 2021! The June 9 event is right around the corner and I hope you’ll all be there. The agenda is packed for this one-day virtual event. You can check out the agenda here.
A few highlights:
We’ll have a panel on self-driving deliveries with Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO and CTO Ahti Heinla, Amy Jones Satrom, who heads operations at Nuro and Gatik co-founder and CTO Apeksha Kumavat. We’ll have one-on-one interviews with Pam Fletcher, who is leading innovation efforts at GM as well as Rimac Automobili founder and CEO Mate Rimac, Scale AI co-founder and CEO Alex Wang and Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.
We’ll have investors, of course, including one panel with Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital. Then there’s investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose SPAC merged with Joby Aviation. Hoffman and Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt will come together to talk about what lies ahead. We also plan to bring together community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig to talk about equity, accessibility and shared mobility in cities.
One other panel we haven’t promoted yet will focus on China and robotaxis. The panel is bringing together Jennifer Li, vice president of finance at WeRide, Jewel Li who is COO of AutoX, and Huan Sun, who heads up Momenta Europe. These executives, from three leading Chinese robotaxi companies (that also have operations in Europe or the U.S.) will join us to provide insight into the unique challenges of developing and deploying the technology in China and how it compares to other countries.
And there is more. Have a question for any of these folks? Email me; I want to hear from you! And remember some of the panels will have a live question-and-answer period.
The day when robotaxis roam the streets of San Francisco looking for fare-paying customers is getting closer. This week, Reuters reported that both Waymo and Cruise have applied to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles for permits to deploy driverless vehicles. The permit on its own isn’t sufficient to begin operating a commercial robotaxi service, but it is an important milestone on the way to achieving that.
For several months now, Waymo has operated a fully driverless commercial taxi service in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. But as Ars alum Tim Lee wrote recently, “Suburban Phoenix is a terrible place to run a taxi service.”
A sun-blessed suburb in the Southwest, designed with the car in mind as the primary mode of transport, is as close to easy mode for an autonomous vehicle as it’s possible to get, outside the confines of private test tracks or a gigantic retirement village. That in turn means that the Phoenix suburbs have limited value when it comes to teaching an autonomous vehicle how to cope with the big bad world. And since having a car is virtually a prerequisite for living in a suburb like Chandler, the people who live there don’t need to use taxis often.
Waymo’s chief financial officer Ger Dwyer and its head of automotive partnerships and corporate development Adam Frost — two longtime executives at the autonomous vehicle company — are leaving this month, departures that comes amid some executive shuffling following CEO John Krafcik’s exit earlier this year.
Dwyer and Frost’s departure was shared internally this week, according to multiple sources. Waymo has confirmed to TechCrunch that Dwyer and Frost are leaving.
“We’re grateful to Ger and Adam for all they’ve done for Waymo and wish them all the best,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “An executive search is underway for a new CFO to lead us into our next chapter as we continue to build, deploy and commercialize the Waymo Driver.”
Dwyer, who reported directly to parent company Alphabet’s executive leadership finance team, is among several executives who have left the company in the past five months. Krafcik announced in April that he was stepping down as CEO. Chief Safety Officer Deborah Hersman left in December and Tim Willis, who was head of manufacturing and global supply and general manager of Waymo’s Laser Bear lidar business, departed in February. Sherry House, who had been at Waymo since 2017 and was most recently treasurer and head of investor relations, left the company in April. She is now CFO at Lucid Motors.
Still, some of the critical leaders, and the people directly below them, have remained. Tekedra Mawakana, who was COO, and Dmitri Dolgov, the CTO, are now co-CEOs of Waymo and appear to have the support of Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, according to brief remarks he made during the company’s first-quarter earnings call. Department heads directly below Mawakana and Dolgov are still at Waymo with a few exceptions, according to LinkedIn profiles. In March, both David Twohig, who was director of Future Automotive at Waymo, and Qi Hommes, who was once head of system safety, left. Hommes is now director of system safety engineering and analysis at Zoox, according to LinkedIn.
Dwyer’s departure also comes at a time when the demand for CFOs has rocketed alongside the continuous string of public offerings, including those done via mergers with special purpose acquisition companies. House’s move to Lucid Motors, which is going public via a merger with a SPAC, is one example.
Dwyer is a longtime Google employee, who started at the company in 2006. He made the leap in August 2016 over to Waymo, just a few months before the former Google self-driving project officially announced it had spun out to become a business under parent company Alphabet.
During his tenure, Dwyer oversaw the financial side of the business in a period of explosive growth that took the company from a few hundred employees to more than 2,000 today.
Frost, who headed up automotive partnerships, has also been an important figure at Waymo. He came to Google’s self-driving project in 2013 after nearly 17 years at Ford Motor Co., according to LinkedIn records. He was initially hired as a chief engineer and then rose through the ranks to chief automotive programs and partnerships officer and eventually chief automotive and corporate development officer. Waymo has locked in a number of what it has described as exclusive partnerships with automakers over the past several years, including Volvo, Stellantis (formerly FCA), as well as one with Renault and Nissan to research how commercial autonomous vehicles might work for passengers and packages in France and Japan.
Waymo also expanded its geographic footprint beyond California during both Dwyer and Frost’s stints. The company brought its autonomous vehicles into cities like Austin and Kirkland, Washington for testing and established operations in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, where it now operates a ride-hailing service called Waymo One using driverless vehicles as well as those with safety operators behind the wheel.
Last year, Waymo completed its first external round of fundraising, which was initially $2.25 billion and later expanded to $3 billion. The $2.25 billion round was led by Silver Lake with investments from Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Mubadala Investment Company, Magna, Andreessen Horowitz and AutoNation and its parent company Alphabet. The extended capital came from new investors, including those managed by T. Rowe Price, Perry Creek Capital, Fidelity Management and Research Company and others.
The external raise followed a flurry of activity that suggested Waymo was ramping up its commercial enterprise, including expanding its core fleet in Mountain View, Calif., the Phoenix area and into Texas. Waymo also began to move beyond its robotaxi testing and began piloting new business applications for its autonomous vehicle technology such as delivery and trucking and even a plan to start selling its custom lidar sensors to companies in the robotics, security and agricultural technology industries.
It has also made numerous partners and at least one acquisition under Dwyer’s watch. Waymo acquired in December 2019 a U.K. company called Latent Logic that spun out of Oxford University’s computer science department. The company uses a form of machine learning called imitation learning that could beef up Waymo’s simulation efforts. The acquisition marked the launch of Waymo’s first European engineering hub in Oxford, U.K.
Last October, Waymo did something remarkable: the company launched a fully driverless commercial taxi service called Waymo One. Customers in a 50-square-mile corner of suburban Phoenix can now use their smartphones to hail a Chrysler Pacifica minivan with no one in the driver’s seat.
And then… nothing. Seven months later, Waymo has neither expanded the footprint of the Phoenix service nor has it announced a timeline for launching in a second city.
It’s as if Steve Jobs had unveiled the iPhone, shipped a few thousand phones to an Apple Store in Phoenix, and then didn’t ship any more for months—and wouldn’t explain why.
Lucid Motors is beefing up its executive and technical leadership team, hiring people from Waymo, Intel and Xperi as it prepares to become a publicly listed company. The automaker said Wednesday that Sherry House, who formerly worked at Waymo, will be its new chief financial officer.
House was at Waymo for four years, most recently as its as treasurer and head of investor relations. Prior to Waymo, she was vice president of corporate development at Visteon Corporation and managing director of technology, media and telecom at Deloitte Corporate Finance.
The electric vehicle automaker has also named Margaret Burgraff, who previously held positions at Apple and Intel, as vice president of software validation, Sanjay Chandra as vice president of Information Technology, and Jeff Curry as vice president of marketing and communications. Burgraff most recently served as vice president of global developer relations at Intel, where she was responsible for co-engineering and enabling global independent software vendors to work with Intel’s product portfolio. She was also a partner at Continuous Ventures, a global venture capital and private equity firm that primarily supports tech startups.
Chandra left his position as chief information officer and head of cloud of operations at TiVo/Xperi to join Lucid. He also worked a PayPal, Virgin Mobile and Workday. Curry most recently held a chief marketing level position at the Jaguar brand and had stints at Ferrari and Audi. Curry has also held marketing positions outside of automotive, including a vp-level at SiriusXM. He is the founding partner of brand strategy consultancy Mere Mortals.
The new hires comes just weeks before Lucid’s merger with special acquisition company Churchill Capital IV Corp. is expected to close, which officially make it a publicly traded company. The combined company, in which Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund will continue to be the largest shareholder, will have a transaction equity value of $11.75 billion. Private investment in the public equity deal is priced at $15 a share, putting the implied pro-forma equity value at $24 billion. The private investment and cash from Churchill will provide roughly $4.4 billion in total funding to Lucid.
The public listing will provide Lucid the capital it needs to begin production of its first all-electric vehicle, the luxury Lucid Air. The company had originally intended to start production and the first deliveries in this spring, but pushed the date to the second half of the year. The Air will first come to North America, followed by Europe in 2022 and China in 2023.
Lucid is also aiming to bring a second vehicle, this time a performance luxury SUV called Gravity, to market in North America in 2023. The vehicles will be produced at its new factory in Casa Grande, Arizona. The initial phase of the $700 million factory was completed late last year and will have the capacity to produce 30,000 vehicles a year. Eventually, Lucid plans to expand the factory over another three phases to reach a production capacity of 365,000 units per year.
The self-driving technology industry is in a strange state right now. A number of companies have been pouring millions of dollars into self-driving technology for years, and many of them have prototype self-driving vehicles that seem to work.
Yet I know of only one company—Waymo—that has launched a fully driverless commercial taxi service. And I only know of one company—Nuro—that’s running a driverless commercial delivery service on public roads. You’d expect these companies to be capitalizing on their early leads by expanding rapidly, but neither seems to be doing that.
Meanwhile, several other players, including Cruise and Mobileye, say they’re planning to launch large-scale commercial services by 2023. But plenty of self-driving companies have blown past self-imposed launch deadlines in the past, so it’s not clear if that will actually happen.
Hi there, new and returning readers. This is The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.
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Rebecca Bellan is back with some micromobbin’ insights. Let’s dig in and take a look at this roundup of news.
It was a buzzy week for ebikes news, another indication that there is still demand — or at least the perception of demand — for this form of mobility.
Take Gocycle as just one example. The UK-based company released its fourth generation of folding electric bikes, which are claimed to be lighter and more powerful. The new line is made of three models — the G4 ($3,999), G4i ($4,999) and G4i+ ($5,999) — and they all have 20-inch wheels, a sealed chain drive with a 3-speed rear hub transmission, hydraulic disc brakes, a polymer reach shock and a 500-watt front motor. This is all to say, this bike can rip.
Ebike sharing also continues to be a busy market with startups making plans and governments making orders.
Smoove, a French mobility startup. is partnering with Zoov, another mobility startup that focuses on IoT and self-diagnosis features, to try to become leaders in the European e-bike sharing market. Smoove is already well-placed in major cities like Paris, Vancouver, Lima and Moscow, and now will be joining forces with Zoov’s high quality tech and compact docking stations.
China-based EZGO announced an order of e-bikes to the Ukraine worth 1 million RMB, or about $150,000. Ukraine is also purchasing EZGO’s “Dilang” brand of e-modes, as well as some electric tricycles. The company hopes to begin distribution within the next couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, in the land of policy …
A council committee has delayed votes to make changes to e-scooter and e-bike sharing schemes in Denver.
The deal they’re working out involves allowing the two micromobility companies to get free access to operating on the city’s streets. Usually, these companies would pay the city for the right to operate, but if the Denver City Council approves their licenses, Lyft and Lime will just be making profits. The upside is that it (hopefully) gets more people out of cars and into more sustainable modes of transport. This deal also doesn’t require Denverites to contribute to funding, unlike the deal Denver had with B-cycle, the city’s original bike share nonprofit.
— Rebecca Bellan
Deal of the week
Lilium became the latest electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft startup to seek capital by going public via a reverse merger with a “blank check” company. In this deal, Lilium announced a merger with special purpose acquisition company Qell Acquisition Corp, in a deal valuing the combined business at $3.3 billion.
(Side note: Qell Acquisition Corp. is a SPAC led by Barry Engle, a former president of General Motors North America.) Once the merger is complete, Lilium will trade on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker symbol LILM.
The German-based startup designs and builds eVTOLs and has aspirations to launch commercial air taxi operations in 2024. Lilium plans to launch an air taxi network in Florida with up to 14 vertiport development sites, which the company says will be built and operated by its infrastructure partners.
Other deals that got my attention …
Chargerhelp!, an on-demand EV charger repair startup, has raised $2.75 million from investors Trucks VC, Kapor Capital, JFF, Energy Impact Partners and The Fund. This round values the startup, which was founded in January 2020, at $11 million post-money. The startup is interesting to me because as far as my research has shown there isn’t a lot of competition; and there should be. They also have a progressive (dare I suggest sustainable approach) to hiring.
Glovo, a startup out of Spain with 10 million users that delivers restaurant takeout, groceries and other items in partnership with brick-and-mortar businesses, raised $528 million in a Series F round. The round is significant not just because of its size, but because of its proximity to Deliveroo’s raising more than $2 billion ahead of its debut on the London Stock Exchange this week.
To offset the thin (or even negative) margins that are typically associated with a lot of delivery startups, Glovo aims to become the market leader in the 20 markets in Europe where it is live today, in part by expanding its “q-commerce” service — the delivery of items to urban consumers in 30 minutes or less, TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden reported. It will be using the money to double down on that strategy, including hiring up to 200 more engineers to work in its headquarters in Barcelona, as well as hubs in Madrid and Warsaw, Poland to build out the technology to underpin it.
LGN, a UK-based startup focused on edge AI, raised $2 million in a round that included investors Trucks VC, Luminous Ventures, and Jaguar Land Rover.
The company, which was founded in 2018 by former Apple and BMW executive Daniel Warner, Oxbridge research fellow Dr Luke Robinson and Professor Vladimir Čeperić of MIT and the University of Zagreb, plans to use the funds to develop its product and hire more employees. Specifically, the company said it is working on low-latency inference technology that can process optical data on-chip orders faster than current technology allows, VentureBeat reported.
Wavesense, the Massachusetts-based startup that makes ground-penetrating radar (GPR) technology for self-driving cars, raised $15 million in a round led by Rhapsody Venture Partners and Impossible Ventures.
Takeaways from Biden’s plans
What will it take to get Americans to choose an electric vehicle for their next car and to get American supply chains up to the task of manufacturing them in-house? According to President Joe Biden’s ambitious infrastructure plan unveiled Wednesday, the answer is $174 billion.
The funds are just one part of the $2 trillion plan, which seeks to overhaul the lifelines that keep the country running, such as our transportation networks, electric grid and even broadband. In some ways, the plan is bipartisan genius: it combines Democrats’ concern over climate change with Republicans’ concern over Chinese dominance in manufacturing, and appeals to both parties in its promise to revitalize domestic jobs. But the plan still needs approval from Congress before it can move forward.
To spur Americans to buy electric, Biden has taken a two-pronged approach: make them cheaper (through tax credits and rebates) and make EV chargers more readily available (by building a staggeringly large network of 500,000 chargers by 2030). His administration hasn’t released details on the size of the incentives, so it’s unclear whether they will be larger than the $7,500 tax credit already available for EVs. It’s also unclear whether Tesla and GM will qualify, as the current credit isn’t available for manufacturers that have already sold more than 200,000 EVs.
For now, Biden’s administration is withholding a lot of details — how will his plan help automakers “spur domestic supply chains from raw materials to parts” and “retool factories to compete globally”? — so we’ll keep an eye out for these details in the future.
— Aria Alamalhodaei
Argo AI plots its fundraising course
I dared to take some time off, which is all well and good until news breaks in the world of autonomous vehicles. A report from The Information said that Argo AI CEO and co-founder Bryan Salesky told employees in an all-hands meeting that the autonomous vehicle startup was planning for a public listing later this year.
I connected with some sources – vacation be damned — and have more context to share with you. Salesky did indeed mention the prospect of an IPO during the company’s regular weekly all-hands meeting. There is a bit more to the story though. The comments were made as the CEO discussed upcoming important milestones in 2021 that will lead to an IPO or a significant raise of some kind. The upshot: apparently all fundraising options are on the table, including a merger with a special acquisition company or SPAC.
Argo, as one source told me, is intent on scaling. Raising capital is a key part of that plan. The company also plans to expand testing beyond the six cities it currently is in — including into Europe. (Remember, Volkswagen is a backer and a customer. )
All of that takes money. Argo has raised $2 billion to date. That’s no small sum and yet far below the war chests of Cruise and Waymo.
The fundraising effort has not started in earnest. There is no roadshow, according to folks familiar. The broad plan is to secure investors, which could turn into the PIPE (private investment in public equity) for a SPAC or a “fairly substantial private round,” according to one insider.
Waymo’s changing of the guard
Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced on Friday that he is stepping down from the leadership position he held for five years. The CEO position will now be held by two people: Tekedra Mawakana, who was COO and Dmitri Dolgov, who was part of the original Google self-driving project and was most recently CTO.
The idea is that the co-CEOs will take their respective expertise — business and engineering — and combine them to help Waymo scale up commercially. Co-CEO models are risky, so it will be interesting to see if the pair can work together, and importantly, get their employees to buy into the idea. Dolgov and Mawakana apparently brought the co-CEO idea to the board, one source told me. (Remember Waymo is an Alphabet company, and so its leaders ultimately answer to their parent.)
In a post on LinkedIn, Krafcik described his time at the company and hinted at a few of his plans, which for now seems to be focused on settling in Austin, Texas and regrouping with family and friends. He’s also now listed as an advisor to Waymo, a contractual position that doesn’t have a specific end date.
As you might suspect, I received lots of texts and email messages from sources within the industry wanting to weigh in or provide inside information (or speculate) why Krafcik left.
Here’s what I can tell you. Krafcik could be a polarizing figure within Waymo, particularly in the early days of his employment when it was still a “project” and had not yet become an independent company under Alphabet. That transition led to the departure of some of the Google self-driving project’s key engineers and leaders, including Chris Urmson, Bryan Salesky and Dave Ferguson, who went on to found AV startups Aurora, Argo AI and Nuro.
Krafcik’s tenure was also marked by extreme growth — in terms of number of employees — as well as an aggressive push to lock up OEM and supplier partners, the launch of a ride-hailing service in the suburbs of Phoenix, expanded testing and its first external investment round of $2.25 billion. That round was extended by another $750 million, bringing the total size of the financing to $3 billion.
Dolgov and Mawakana have some decisions to make on how they want to proceed and where to place their bets. My educated forecast? Waymo Via, the company’s autonomous delivery unit, will become a bigger priority along with a more visible push into complex urban environments like San Francisco.
Notable reads and other tidbits
Here are a few other items worth mentioning.
Amazon Web Services is expanding its offerings and anticipating the inevitable spike in EVs by partnering with Swiss automation company ABB. The two are working on a single-view electric fleet management platform that can work with any charging infrastructure or EV.
“Not only do fleet managers have to contend with the speed of development in charging technology, but they also need real-time vehicle and charging status information, access to charging infrastructures and information for hands-on maintenance,” Frank Muehlon, president of ABB’s e-mobility division, told TechCrunch. “This new real-time EV fleet management solution will set new standards in the world of electric mobility for global fleet operators and help them realize improved operations.”
Cartken, the robotics startup founded by ex-Google employees, has partnered with REEF Technology to bring self-driving delivery robots to the streets of downtown Miami. REEF, a startup that operates parking lots and tech-focused neighborhood hubs, to develop and deploy the robots. They are now delivering dinner orders from REEF’s network of delivery-only kitchens to people located within a 3/4-mile radius of its delivery hubs.’
Geodis, the global logistics company, has tapped startup Phantom Auto to help it deploy forklifts that can be controlled remotely by human operators located hundreds, and even thousands, of miles away. The aim is to use the technology to reduce operator fatigue — and the injuries that can occur as a result — as well as reduce the number of people physically inside warehouses, according to the Geodis.
Motional, which is partnering with Lyft for ride-hailing services, revealed this week that it would be integrating its tech with the Hyundai IONIQ5. Customers in certain markets will be able to book this vehicle starting in 2023.
Optimus Ride, an autonomous electric mobility company, announced a partnership with sports car manufacturer Polaris to commercialize a new breed of Polaris GEM low-speed vehicles. The vehicles will serve as microtransit for certain academic or corporate campuses, mixed-use developments and other geofenced, localized environments. Side note: 2023 seems to be a big year for upcoming electric, autonomous vehicles.
Zipline, the drone delivery service startup, announced a partnership with Toyota Tsusho
Corporation that will focus on bringing medical and pharmaceutical supplies to healthcare facilities in Japan. Toyota Tsusho is already an investor in Zipline and so this is a deepening of that relationship.
The partnership also marks Zipline’s entrance into Japan. The company already delivers medical supplies in Ghana and Rwanda, and also operates in the United States.