The Station: The biggest deal of 2021 and executive shuffling in transportation land – TechCrunch
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. Welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B. Before we jump, I wanted to note that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted what appears to be the first crash involving a Tesla that had the FSD beta software engaged.
As always, Tesla vehicles equipped with full self-driving (FSD) software are not self driving. What does this mean? Well, my expectation is that there will be more incidents like this and as a result NHTSA will be forced to act.
Oh and I’ll be out in Los Angeles this coming week for a number of events, including CoMotion and the Los Angeles Auto Show. Stay tuned for our coverage throughout the week. Ok, let’s go!
Free Now, the mobility app backed by BMW and Daimler, has officially integrated with Dott, allowing customers to book Dott’s e-scooters on the app, and eventually, its e-bikes, too. The partnership will be available in the U.K., France, Italy, Poland and Germany, with more countries expected to follow. Bird riders surveyed in Atlanta show that nearly half of all riders identify as female, which is a promising stat if we’re trying to close the gender gap in the micromobility world.
In the same survey, 65% of respondents said protected bike lanes would encourage them to use more scooters. In other Bird news, the company is launching its public bikeshare integration with MoGo in Detroit, a docked bikeshare service. Bird will now feature MoGo bikes in its app.
Tier is bringing 500 e-bikes to the London Borough of Islington, boosting green transport options following the Ultra Low Emissions Zone expansion. The company has also just added 10 new all-electric MAN eTGE vans in London. The vans will be used to service Tier’s e-scooter fleet.
Cabify has added a new business line to its multimodal repertoire. The company is partnering with Velca, a Spanish e-motorcycle brand, to provide users in Barcelona, Malaga, Madrid, Sevilla and Valencia with monthly rentals of electric motorcycles. Back in July, BMW announced it would finally start producing its retro-futuristic CE 04 electric motorbike, a vehicle it has released multiple concepts around.
Now, the automaker has entered into full series production. Propella, the e-bike manufacturer, introduced its Propella Mini bike, its smallest and lightest model yet. Coming in at just 33 pounds and 59 inches long, the Mini has 20-inch wheels, a small frame and low-power electronics.
It’s equipped with a 400W Bafang motor, which is good for mainly flat land riding. It can handle a slope of about 10% grade. Anyone buying an e-bike or e-scooter, should be taking precautions, say fire departments and safety officials, after an increase in battery fires linked to micromobility devices.
The New York Fire Department reported 78 fires linked to e-bikes this year and their lithium-ion batteries that can get overheated and catch fire if they’re not charged or disposed of properly. — Rebecca Bellan
Deal of the week
I’m dubbing it deal of the year. We all knew it was going to be big. Rivian’s IPO has been highly anticipated.
Still, the reaction and willingness of investors to buy shares 37% higher than the listed price is simply bananas. Rivian shares were listed at £78 and its opening trade was £106.75. The company has a trickle of revenue and mounting losses due to the expense of ramping up production of its R1T and R1S vehicles and RCV, the electric commercial vans it is supplying to Amazon and maybe others.
That didn’t stop people from piling in and helping push Rivian’s value past £110 billion. (Closing share price on Friday was £129.95). Rivian now has a market cap beyond GM and Ford, two legacy automakers that actually produce and sell millions of vehicles each year. Those niggling details like revenue didn’t dampen the mood.
Even Amazon, which already held a 20% stake in the company, bought even more shares, per a Friday afternoon regulatory filing. Amazon now owns a total of 158,363,834 shares of Rivian, or about 22%. There’s been speculation about whether Ford, which owns about 12% of Rivian, will cash out.
The automaker has made a hefty return on it investment already. Ford has made about £820 million in equity and bond investments in Rivian. Those shares, about 102 million according to filings, are now worth £13.15 billion.
What comes next? You better believe the attention on Rivian will be intense as it tries to meet production and delivery targets on the commercial delivery van for Amazon and its consumer products. Rivian is supposed to deliver the first 10 vans (out of an order of 100,000) to Amazon in December.
When there is a customer like Amazon to please, that deadline might be difficult to keep. I’ll be watching. Other deals that got my attention this week …
Ample, a startup developing battery swapping technology for electric vehicles, raised £30 million from The Blackstone Group and Spanish multinational financial services company Banco Santander. Applied Intuition, a company that sells software development tools to automotive engineers, has raised £175 million in a round led by Addition Capital, Coatue Management and serial entrepreneur Elad Gil, Bloomberg reported. The Mountain View, California-based company has a post-funding valuation of £3.6 billion.
Blackshark.ai, the Austrian mapping startup, raised a £20 million round A to develop and scale its replica-Earth tech. The potential applications for a planetary “digital twin” are many and various, and the company has a head start even on mapping giants like Google, TechCrunch’s Devin Coldewey wrote. DoorDash, the on-demand delivery giant acquired food delivery company Wolt in an all-stock deal valued at EUR7 billion, or £8.1 billion.
Embark Trucks, an autonomous vehicle company completed its SPAC merger and began trading on the Nasdaq under the ticker EMBK. CNBC profiled its 26-year-old founder and CEO Alex Rodrigues. Gett, the ride-hailing company, reached a deal to merge with a special-purpose acquisition company with Rosecliff Acquisition Corp. I, a SPAC backed by the investment firm Rosecliff Venture Management LLC, the WSJ reported.
GoTo Group, the Indonesia-based startup borne out of a merger in May between ride-hailing giant Gojek and e-commerce company Tokopedia, secured more than £1.3 billion in the first close of its pre-IPO funding. The round was led by Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, with participation from Avanda Investment Management, Fidelity International, Google, Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB), Primavera Capital, SeaTown Master Fund, Temasek, Tencent and Ward Ferry. Inspiration, a startup that finances commercial electric vehicle operations and has plans to build, own and operate the corresponding charging infrastructure, came out of stealth with an initial £200 million in investment.
The funding comes from ArcLight Capital Partners, a venture fund that invests in energy infrastructure. Kodiak Robotics, one of the last privately held autonomous truck outfits in Silicon Valley, raised £125 million in new capital. Notably, the lead investor is not listed and not being disclosed.
I was told that a freight and logistics company set up a special interest financial vehicle as the strategic lead investor spot in the round. Other investors include newcomers SIP Global Partners, Muirwoods Ventures, Harpoon Ventures, StepStone Group, Gopher Asset Management, Walleye Capital, Aliya Capital Partners and others. Existing investors Battery Ventures, CRV and Lightspeed Venture Partners also participated.
Bridgestone Americas and BMW i Ventures, which had announced strategic investments in Kodiak earlier this year, converted its funds to this round. Lordstown Motors sold its 6.2-million-square-foot Lordstown, Ohio factory to Foxconn, the Taiwanese hardware manufacturing company best known for making Apple’s iPhone. The £230 million deal is expected to close by the end of April next year, according to a statement from Lordstown.
Plus and Hennessy Capital Investment Corp, a publicly traded special purpose acquisition company, agreed to terminate their previously announced merger. The companies said this was “in light of recent developments in the regulatory environment outside of the United States.” Plus, an autonomous vehicle company, said it is pursuing a potential restructuring of certain aspects of its business. Importantly, Plus’ deal to supply Amazon with driver-assistant technology remains intact, Automotive News reported.
Point One Navigation, a startup that combines augmented Global Navigation Satellite System, computer vision and sensor fusion into an API to provide precise location for robotics, OEMs and AV developers, raised £10 million. The Series A round was led by UP.Partners, with participation from existing investors including BOLT, IA Ventures and Ludlow Ventures. RabbitMart, or Rabbit for short, came out of stealth with £11 million in pre-seed funding amid a booming fast-delivery market in Africa.
San Francisco-based Global Founders Capital, Raed Ventures, Foundation Venture, MSA Capital and Goodwater Capital participated in this pre-seed round. TriEye, the Israeli sensing startup, raised £74 million in a round led by M&G Investments and Varana Capital, with the participation of Samsung Ventures, Tawazun SDF, Deep Insight, Allied Group, and Discount Capital as well as existing investors Intel Capital, Porsche Ventures, Marius Nacht and Grove Ventures. The round brings TriEye’s total funding to £96 million.
Upstream Security, the automotive cybersecurity technology company, received an undisclosed investment from BMW i Ventures. United States Postal Service narrowed its net losses by about half. The company reported a net loss of £4.9 billion for the 2021 budget year an improvement over last year’s losses of £9.17 billion.
Zoomcar, the Bangalore-based car-sharing startup, raised £92 million in a new financing round led by SternAegis Ventures. Zoomcar has raised £207 million to date.
A little bird
Three quick items this week that are all about executive shuffling in the autonomous vehicle industry. You might remember that Anthony Foxx, the Secretary of Transportation under President Barack Obama, joined Lyft as chief policy officer and senior adviser back in 2018. Foxx is stepping down from the CPO gig, I learned recently.
The new CPO will be Jeremy Bird, who is taking over in January. Bird joined Lyft in 2019 and was promoted to deputy CPO nearly a year ago. Lyft did confirm this tidbit to me and said Foxx will stay on as a senior adviser.
Here’s a statement from Foxx that was sent me.
“It’s the right time for me. I worked hard to build the absolute best policy team in business. There’s really no other team like us.
That’s really what I came to do, and I could not be more proud of our people or have more confidence in Lyft going forward. I can now feel good about transitioning the team while continuing to advise Lyft. Jeremy has been an instrumental part of this team and is a great leader in his own right.
I’m thrilled to pass the torch to him.”
Another departure that actually occurred months ago, but no one has reported on, is over at Kodiak Robotics. In 2018, Kodiak came out of stealth with £40 million in funding and an intriguing founder lineup. One co-founder was Don Burnette, who is CEO and a veteran of the autonomous vehicle industry.
Burnette, left the Google self-driving project engineer to co-found self-driving truck startup Otto in early 2016, along with Anthony Levandowski, Lior Ron and Claire Delaunay. He left in March 2018, about a year after Uber bought Otto. The other co-founder was Paz Eshel, former venture capitalist.
Specifically, he had been a vice president at Battery Ventures, where he led the firm’s autonomous-vehicle investment project. Battery Ventures led Kodiak’s first round and Itzik Parnafes, a general partner at Battery Ventures, joined the Kodiak board. I learned, and Burnette confirmed, that Eshel is no longer at the company.
Burnette wouldn’t provide further details except to say that he departed earlier this summer. I reached out, but have not heard from Eshel. And finally, it seems that Gretchen Effgen, a long time executive at Motional, is now at Google.
Effgen led partnerships and marketing at nuTonomy, the autonomous vehicle startup that was acquired by Aptiv in November 2018. This venture was spun out in 2020 as Motional, a £4 billion joint venture with Hyundai. Effgen joined Google as it director of global automotive partnerships, platforms and ecosystems this month, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Hello everyone! Welcome back to Policy Corner. I want to touch briefly on the news regarding the £1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress last Friday — briefly because, well, there’s tons already out there detailing in full what it includes and doesn’t include, what it means for roads, ports and the railway system.
Regarding transportation electrification, the big wins include:
o £5 billion for zero-emission transit
o £5 billion to expand EV chargers along highways, plus an additional £2.5 billion that could go toward EV charging or other types of alternative fuel, like hydrogen stations
o £2.5 billion to electrify school buses There are a few other interesting tidbits included in the bill that caught my eye as well, especially an “Advanced Impaired Driving Technology” provision. Essentially, this provision gives the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration three years to evaluate anti-drunk driving auto tech and issue a new safety standard, which automakers will be required to incorporate into new vehicles two years after that.
NHTSA will no doubt be evaluating driver monitoring tech, including sensors outside the vehicle and even in-vehicle sensors that actually monitor the driver’s eyes and attention. It looks like many technologies that are already rolling out in vehicles today, like lane departure warnings, could be used for this purpose, and other companies are already starting to look into how their systems could be used to prevent drunk driving. Also of note: NHTSA will receive around £110 million per year to conduct “behavioral research on Automated Systems and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems and improving consumer responses to safety recalls.”
Another bill was passed this week that could mean big things for everything from drones to eVTOL.
That is the Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act, which will establish an interagency working group within the Department of Transportation to “plan and coordinate efforts related to the safety, operations, infrastructure, physical security, cybersecurity, and Federal investment necessary for maturation of the AAM ecosystem” in the U.S. This is a big deal! This goes far beyond the Federal Aviation Administration’s authority to certify aircraft, which is really one one piece of the puzzle to launching AAM technologies.
This working group will make recommendations for all the other pieces in which the federal government plays a role, like safety requirements of future air traffic management systems; infrastructure, including utility infrastructure, to support the growth of AAM; and community acceptance of the tech. “Congress spending intentional time looking at infrastructure, looking at operations, looking at how all of these things can come to fruition and really benefit states in the communities that each of these Senators and Representatives serve is pretty big,” Ian Villa, COO of Whisper Aero, told TechCrunch in a recent interview. The working group’s recommendations will also likely push conformity — which is good for end users and industry, Villa added. “There’s no way we can stand up a real system if the way that air taxis operate in Miami is different than the way [they] operate in California.”
The working group will be required to submit a report to Congress on their findings. — Aria Alamalhodaei
Notable news and other tidbits
Gatik, autonomous delivery startup focused on the middle mile, pulled the safety operator from behind the wheel of two self-driving box trucks that operate in Walmart’s home turf of Bentonville, Arkansas. This means the startup’s box trucks are driverless on a commercial route.
TechCrunch actually reported about this in August, when the company first went fully driverless. Gatik revealed more details on this milestone, including that it has a chase vehicle for now. Lyft and Motional will launch their first fully driverless ride-hail service in Las Vegas in 2023.
The companies aim to be transporting public passengers — via Motional’s electric Hyundai IONIQ 5-based robotaxis and booked through the Lyft app — by the second half of next year. They will eventually scale up to a full commercial launch when Lyft is allowed to charge for rides in 2023. Nvidia said that Hyperion 8 — a production-ready platform that includes sensors, compute and software needed for AV development — is now available to buy for 2024 vehicle models.
Hyperion 8 is the latest iteration of the end-to-end Nvidia Drive platform that automakers can use to customize to their likening and needs. This was revealed back in April. However, some details, including which companies are supplying the 12 cameras, nine radars and one lidar that are part of the platform, weren’t shared until this past week.
Notably, Luminar is supplying the lidar, a potential boon for the newly public company. Continental, Hella, Sony and Valeo are also supplying sensors to Nvidia for the Hyperion 8. Plus, the autonomous vehicle company I cited up in the “deal of the week” section, announced a partnership with Aeva lidar.
Aeva’s tech will be used in Plus’s first 100,000 trucks. Ouster, a lidar company, held its Q3 earnings call last week. Ouster said it is spending more on R&D and scaling up a division focused just on automotive, another signal that lidar companies have to diversify their offerings to stay afloat.
GreenPower and Perrone Robotics are teaming up to produce the AV Star.
It’s a combination of GreenPower’s EV star, a mini electric bus, that will be fitted with Perrone’s TONY autonomous vehicle retrofit kit. Workhorse Group, the troubled electric vehicle startup, is struggling — and beyond its Q3 £81 million loss. Revenue is also in the negative to the tune of £576,600 because it had to issue refunds to customers who had their C-1000 cargo delivery vans recalled due to safety issues.
Workhorse CEO Rick Dauch also admitted that, aside from federal safety issues, the C-1000 just might not be up to the task of heavy duty deliveries. Yikes.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against ride-hailing giant Uber over claims that the company discriminates against passengers with disabilities, in violation of the U.S.
Americans with Disabilities Act. Dr. Lawrence Burns, an author and former corporate vp of research & development and planning at General Motors, is now an executive adviser of autonomous sensing platforms company Neural Propulsion Systems.
Burns was a former adviser to Waymo. MotoRefi, the auto refinance platform, changed its name to Caribou. Along with the new branding and logo, Caribou recently combined its auto financing product with insurance.
The company said it plans to announce specific details on insurance carrier plans in early 2022.
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