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Rivian’s electric R1T pickup truck, R1S SUV get their official EPA ranges

By Kirsten Korosec

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

The official range and fuel economy values have been posted on the U.S. EPA website. The official numbers align with Rivian’s own previous estimates, which it has advertised as 300 miles.

While EPA estimates can’t account for different driving styles, the test cycle is robust enough to provide an accurate benchmark for customers shopping for an electric vehicle.

In this case, Rivian has the benefit of being the first electric truck on the market. Ford’s F-150 Lightning, which isn’t expected to come on the market until spring 2022, has a targeted range of 230 miles in the standard and up to 300 miles in the extended version. The EPA has not issued official ranges for the Ford Lightning.

Rivian’s “Launch edition” R1T truck and R1S SUV come equipped with a 135-kWh battery pack that is branded as the “large pack.” Deliveries of the Launch Edition vehicles are slated to begin this month.

The official EPA range values for our Launch Edition vehicles are in:
R1T Large Pack: 314 miles
R1S Large Pack: 316 miles
We'll share more EPA information about other editions as we have it. https://t.co/MPY1wVzkz9 pic.twitter.com/rzrCkQpggd

— Rivian (@Rivian) September 3, 2021

The R1T and R1S vehicles will be offered in two trims, both of which are offered with the same 135-kWh-pack size. The Adventure variant of the R1T, which has a premium interior, starts at $73,000. The R1T Explore trim starts at $67,500.

The Adventure trim in the R1S SUV starts at $75,500, while the Explore package has a base price of $70,000.

Rivian intends to begin deliveries of the Adventure and Explore packages in January 2022.

Rivian also plans to offer an even larger pack, dubbed the “Max pack,” for the R1T. That larger pack costs an additional $10,000 and is expected to push the range of the R1T past 400 miles. The EPA has not posted an official range for the max pack or other editions, including a planned smaller battery pack option.

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

By Rebecca Bellan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikola and Bosch ink deal for hydrogen fuel cell modules

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Beleaguered electric truck developer Nikola Corp. has inked a new agreement with Bosch for its hydrogen fuel cell modules. The modules will be used to power two of Nikola’s hydrogen-fueled semi-trucks, the short-haul Nikola Tre and Nikola Two sleeper.

“This announcement is the result of a multi-year working relationship with Bosch,” Nikola CEO Mark Russell said in a statement. “After extensive analysis of the best options out there, we are proud to enter into this strategic relationship with Bosch.”

The news is a positive sign for the relationship between the two companies, which has not always been smooth. Bosch invested at least $100 million in the hydrogen truck startup in 2019 but reduced its shares in the company the following year. Bosch also said last year it would supply fuel cells for Nikola’s European operations.

Nikola declined to share the financial terms of the deal or details regarding fuel cell system volume. Nikola will assemble the hydrogen fuel cell power modules at its facility in Coolidge, Arizona. Bosch will also supply fully assembled power modules, the company said in a statement Thursday. To support power module assembly, Nikola said it will expand the Arizona facility by 50,000 square feet and up to 50 new employees by 2023. The truck maker is also planning to expand its engineering and testing facilities at its headquarters in nearby Phoenix.

A Nikola spokesperson said the new agreement does not affect the company’s relationships with other companies for fuel cell systems and components, including a non-binding MOU with General Motors for the automaker’s Hydrotec fuel cell system that was announced in November last year.

Nikola went public via a merger with blank-check firm VectoIQ Acquisition Corp. At the beginning of this month, the company told investors that it was cutting its delivery outlook for electric semis from 50 to 100 units to just 25 to 50. However, company executives did say that it had built 14 pre-production vehicles, including five alpha and nine beta prototypes.

Meanwhile, Nikola’s former CEO and founder, Trevor Milton, promised a criminal court that he would reside at his Utah ranch until he can be tried for securities fraud and misleading investors.

Tesla ordered to share Autopilot data with the US traffic safety agency

By Darrell Etherington
Mariella Moon Contributor
Mariella Moon is an associate editor at Engadget.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has ordered Tesla to hand over detailed Autopilot data by October 22nd or else face fines of up to $115 million, according to The New York Times. Back in August, NHTSA announced that it’s investigating incidents wherein Tesla vehicles with Autopilot activated crashed into parked first responder vehicles with flashing lights. The agency originally cited 11 such crashes, which resulted in 17 injuries and one death since 2018, but a 12th incident occurred just this Saturday.

In a letter it sent the automaker, the NHTSA told Tesla to produce detailed information on how the driver assistance system works. It wants to know how it ensures that human drivers will keep their eyes on the road while Autopilot is engaged and whether there are limits on where it can be used. Feds have long criticized Tesla for not having the safeguards to make sure human drivers are keeping their hands on the wheel. A few months ago, the company finally activated the camera mounted above the rear view mirror in Model 3 and Model Y vehicles to “detect and alert driver inattentiveness while Autopilot is engaged.” In addition, Autopilot is only meant for use on highways, but there’s nothing keeping drivers from using it on local roads.

In addition to detailed Autopilot data, the NHTSA is also asking for information on how many cars Tesla has sold in the US. It wants to know every Autopilot-related arbitration proceeding or lawsuit the company has been involved in, along with all the complaints Tesla has received about the driver assistance technology from customers.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.

Cox Automotive acquires battery health company Spiers as ‘EVs take center stage’

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Cox Automotive is getting into the electric vehicle battery lifecycle business.

The company said Wednesday it acquired Oklahoma City-based Spiers New Technologies (SNT), a business that provides repair, remanufacturing, refurbishing and repurposing services for EV battery packs.

The two companies did not disclose the terms of the deal. Cox said the acquisition will help it establish its battery servicing offerings, particularly as “EVs take center stage.” It added that electric vehicles have completely difference service profiles than their internal combustion engine vehicle counterparts, and much of that comes down to the battery. EV battery support is particularly critical as the battery pack itself can comprise as much as 40% of the vehicle’s cost.

Even as federal investment in electric vehicles grow, and more automakers announce billions to build out their EV businesses, public skepticism remains. Eight out of 10 people not considering purchasing an EV are skeptical about the value of the battery and its useful life, according to research conducted by Cox.

This is not Cox’s only foray into EV battery management; the company also build a battery health diagnostic tool with SNT that uses Spiers’ software platform, Alfred. Cox said it would use the diagnostic tool to push greater confidence in electric vehicles, likening it to the way that Kelley Blue Book has provided greater transparency about ICE vehicles’ condition for consumers.

The acquisition will also give Cox a stake in the battery repurposing business. Spiers is one of a few companies that specializes giving EV batteries a “second life” after they are no longer fit in a vehicle. Around 80% to 90% of the batteries SNT receives are from OEMs, with the rest from auto dismantlers, the company told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year. It’s a business segment that is likely only to grow as more EVs come off the roads, so the transaction is likely giving Cox a stake in end-of-life purposes as well.

VanMoof raises $128 million to become the world’s leading e-bike brand

By Romain Dillet

Amsterdam-based startup VanMoof has raised a $128 million Series C funding round. The company designs and sells electric bikes that are quite popular in some markets. It now wants to become the world’s leading e-bike brand by iterating at a faster pace.

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

Today’s Series C represents a big jump compared to the company’s Series B. Last year, VanMoof raised a $40 million Series B. Overall, if you add it all up, the startup has raised $182 million in total.

If you’re not familiar with VanMoof’s e-bikes, TechCrunch reviewed both the most recent S3 and X3 models. On paper, they are identical. The VanMoof X3 features a smaller frame and smaller wheels.

What makes VanMoof different from your average e-bike manufacturer is that the company tries to control everything from the supply chain to the customer experience. VanMoof e-bikes are premium e-bikes that are primarily designed for city rides. The most recent models currently cost $2,298 or €2,198.

They feature an electric motor paired with an electronic gear shifting system. It has four gears and you don’t have to change gears yourself. All you have to do is jump on the bike and start pedaling.

Recognizable by their iconic triangular-shaped futuristic-looking frames, the S3 and X3 also come with hydraulic brakes, integrated lights and some smart features. There’s an integrated motion detector combined with an alarm, a GPS chip and cellular connectivity.

If you declare your bike as stolen, the GPS and cellular chips go live and you can track your bike in the VanMoof app. The company’s bikes are now also compatible with Apple’s Find My app.

Instead of relying exclusively on off-the-shelf parts, the company works with a small set of suppliers to manufacture custom components. This way, it can cut out as many middleperson as possible to bring costs down. It’s also a good competitive advantage.

Growing a company like VanMoof is a capital-intensive business. The company has opened retail stores and service hubs in 50 different cities around the world. While the company started in Europe, the U.S. is now the fastest growth market for VanMoof.

With today’s funding round, the startup plans to double-down on its current strategy. You can expect updated bikes with refined designs and more custom parts. You can expect more stores and service hubs around the world. And you can probably expect more online sales as well.

“It will help us get 10 million people on our bikes in the next five years,” co-founder and CEO Taco Carlier said in a statement. So far, there are 150,000 people using VanMoof bikes.

Today’s investment shouldn’t come as a surprise. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated plans to transform European cities — and prioritize bikes over cars. Last year, TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas and I wrote a comprehensive overview of key policy developments in four major cities — Paris, Barcelona, London and Milan. VanMoof is now benefiting from these policy shifts.

Tesla wants to sell electricity in Texas

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Elon Musk’s Tesla is looking beyond electric vehicles, solar panels and energy storage and wants to now 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. Over 100 REPs currently compete on the open market.

The company also filed separate applications for several utility-scale batteries in the Lone Star state: a 250-megawatt battery situated near its Gigafactory outside Austin, and a 100 MW separate project outside Houston. These projects are unrelated to the company’s efforts to become an electric provider, but taken as a whole, they reveal an ambitious roadmap for Tesla’s energy businesses.

Imagine: Tesla could not only sell electricity to customers, but it could also broker customers selling their excess energy – generated from Tesla Powerwall or Solar panel products, of course – back to the grid. It’s certainly one way to fulfill Musk’s vision of turning every home into a distributed power plant.

The latest request to the PUC comes just six months after an unprecedented winter storm shut down large parts of Texas’ power grid for days, leaving millions without power during a string of sub-freezing days. A handful of REPs shut down after the storm, which jammed wholesale electricity prices up to $9,000 per megawatt-hour (the seasonal average is around $50).

Musk, who moved many operations to Texas from California, including SpaceX’s sprawling facility in Boca Chica, criticized the state’s grid operator on Twitter at the time:

.@ERCOT_ISO is not earning that R

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 17, 2021

He said the company was not “earning that R” – referring to the R in the acronym, which stands for Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

Tesla Energy Ventures told PUC regulators that it would use Tesla’s existing energy division to help drive sales, including leveraging the company’s mobile app and website. “Specifically, [Tesla Energy Ventures] will target its existing customers that own Tesla products and market the retail offer to customers through the mobile application and Tesla website,” the application says. “In addition to the Tesla mobile application and Tesla website, the applicant’s existing ‘Tesla Energy Customer Support’ organization will be trained to provide support and guidance to customers in customer acquisition efforts.”

Ana Stewart is listed as president of Tesla Energy Ventures. She’s been with Tesla since 2017 as the director of regulatory credit trading. Prior, she worked at Tesla-acquired SolarCity.

The application is listed under docket number 52431.

Electric vehicle company Rivian has confidentially filed for an IPO

By Kirsten Korosec

Rivian, the electric vehicle startup backed by a host of institutional and strategic investors including Ford and Amazon, has confidentially filed paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to go public.

The size and price range for the proposed offering have yet to be determined. The initial public offering is expected to take place after the SEC completes its review process, subject to market and other conditions, the brief statement said.

The confidential filing comes less than two months since Rivian 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.

The electric automaker, which now employs 7,000 people, is preparing to deliver its R1T pickup truck in September. The road to produce the R1T and an accompanying SUV requires capital, which Rivian has had little trouble raising.

Rivian has raised roughly $10.5 billion to date. In January, the company brought in $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.

Developing….

Cruise is buying solar energy from California farmers to power its electric, self-driving fleet

By Rebecca Bellan

Cruise, the self-driving car company under General Motors, has launched a new initiative called Farm to Fleet that will allow the company to source solar power from farms in California’s Central Valley. The San Francisco Chronicle was the first to report the news that 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.

Cruise recently secured a permit to shuttle passengers in its test vehicles in San Francisco without a human safety operator behind the wheel. The company is also ramping up its march to commercialization with a recent $5 billion line of credit from GM Financial to pay for hundreds of electric and autonomous Origin vehicles. While this partnership with California farmers is undoubtedly a boon to the state’s work in progressing renewable energies while also providing jobs and financial opportunities to local businesses, Cruise isn’t running a charity here.

The California Independent System Operator has been soliciting power producers across the western United States to sell more megawatts to the state this summer in anticipation of heat waves that will boost electricity demand and potentially cause blackouts. Power supplies are lower than expected already due to droughts, outages and delays in bringing new energy generation sources to the grid, causing reduced hydroelectric generation. To ensure California’s grid can handle the massive increase in fleet size Cruise is planning, it seems that the company has no choice but to find creative ways to bolster the grid. Cruise, however, is holding firm that it’s got loftier goals than securing the energy from whatever sources are available.

“This is entirely about us doing the right thing for our cities and communities and fundamentally transforming transportation for the better,” Ray Wert, a Cruise spokesperson, told TechCrunch.

With droughts continuing to plague California farmers, converting farmland to solar farms is a potential way to help the state meet its climate change targets, according to a report from environmental nonprofit Nature Conservancy. Which is why Cruise saw the logic in approaching Central Valley farmers now.

“Farm to Fleet is a vehicle to rapidly reduce urban transportation emissions while generating new revenue for California’s farmers leading in renewable energy,” said Rob Grant, Cruise’s vice president of social affairs and global impact, in a blog post.

Cruise is paying negotiated contract rates with the farms through its clean energy partner, BTR Energy. The company isn’t disclosing costs, but says it’s paying no more or less than what it would pay for using other forms of renewable energy credits (RECs). RECs are produced when a renewable energy source generates one megawatt-hour of electricity and passes it on to the grid. According to Cruise, Sundale has installed 2 megawatts of solar capacity to power their 200,000 square footage of cold storage, and Moonlight has installed a combined 3.9 MW of solar arrays and two-battery storage system for its sorting and storage facilities. So when Cruise buys credits from these farms, it’s able to say that a specific amount of its electricity use came from a renewable source. RECs are unique and tracked, so it’s clear where they came from, what kind of energy they used and where they went. Cruise did not share how many RECs it plans to purchase from the farms, but says it will be enough to power its San Francisco fleet.

“While the solar power still flows through the same grid, Cruise purchases and then ultimately ‘retires’ the renewable energy credits generated by the solar panels at the farms,” said Wert. “Through data that we submit to the California Air Resources Board quarterly, we retire a number of RECs equivalent to the amount of electricity we used to charge our vehicles.”

Wert says using fully renewable power is actually profitable for Cruise in California due to the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which is designed to decrease the carbon intensity of transportation fuels in the state and provide more low-carbon alternatives. Cruise owns and operates all of its own EV charging ports, so it’s able to generate credits based on the carbon intensity score of the electricity and amount of energy delivered. Cruise can then sell its credits to other companies seeking to reduce their footprints and comply with regulations. 

Aside from practicalities, Cruise is aiming to set a standard for the industry and create demand for renewable energy, thus incentivizing more people and businesses to create it. 

“Transportation is responsible for over 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is why we announced our Clean Mile Challenge in February, where we challenged the rest of the AV industry to report how many miles they’re driving on renewable energy every year,” said Wert. “We’re hoping that others follow our lead.”

Lordstown Motors taps former Icahn exec as CEO to put its EV truck ambitions back on track

By Kirsten Korosec

Lordstown Motors has 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.

In June, founder and CEO Steve Burns and CFO Julio Rodriguez resigned following a disappointing first-quarter earnings that revealed the company was consuming more capital than expected and unable to reach previously forecasted production numbers for its electric Endurance pickup truck. The resignations were also tied to a board committee investigation that found inaccuracies in some of the company’s disclosures on its truck preorders.

The resignations were just one of several problems, including allegations of fraud and separate investigations by the Department of Justice and the SEC, that has put the two-year-old company at risk of failing. Lordstown did receive a lifeline in August when hedge fund YA II PN purchased 35.1 million shares, or about 19.9% of outstanding shares. The sale provided much-needed capital required to produce its first electric vehicle at the former GM Assembly Plant in Lordstown, Ohio.

Ninivaggi has the background to bring order to Lordstown’s business. He is also bullish on the company’s product, noting in a statement that the demand for full-size electric pickup trucks will be strong and that Lordstown’s Endurance truck has the opportunity to capture a meaningful share of the market.

The former CEO of Icahn Enterprises has served in a variety of senior leadership positions in the automotive and transportation industries, beginning at Lear Corporation, where he eventually became executive vice president. He was later co-chairman and co-CEO of automotive components supplier Federal Mogul Holdings Corporation ahead of its sale to Tenneco.

While with Icahn Enterprises, Ninivaggi also oversaw the company’s automotive aftermarket service network and parts distribution businesses. He also has a long history directing public companies, including Motorola Mobility (prior to its sale to Google), Navistar International, Hertz Global Holdings and CVR Energy.

Porsche expands online marketplace to include US inventory of new cars

By Kirsten Korosec

Porsche Cars North America has added its entire U.S. inventory of new cars to its online marketplace as the company seeks to keep up with customer demands and the industry’s shift to digital commerce.

When the online marketplace Porsche Finder launched in May 2020, customers were only able to search for pre-owned and certified pre-owned vehicles using the tool. That platform, which lets customers search by vehicle model and generation as well as price, equipment, packages and colors, now includes all new vehicle inventory from its 193 U.S. dealerships.

The platform, which was developed by automaker’s Porsche Digital subsidiary and PCNA, also includes features that let customers estimate a trade-in value and a payment calculator to compare leasing and financing options from Porsche Financial Services.

Online platforms that allow customers to search for products are not new. As customers shift their shopping to online — a trend that accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic — digital platforms have become a critical tool for companies.

Established automakers like Porsche, however, have had to balance the demand of its customers and dealership network. Porsche doesn’t have a direct sales model like Tesla and new entrants Lucid Group and Rivian.

“The dealership is still at the center of everything we do,” PCNA President and CEO Kjell Gruner said in a recent interview. “At the dealership, we believe very much in personal interaction — in looking somebody in the eye, reading their body language. And, of course, our products are very physical.”

While all 193 dealers are participating in the Porsche Finder tool, Gruner acknowledged that this large group includes those who have been more cautious about the move toward digital commerce.

“You always have some more innovative people, some more cautious,” he said. “COVID … really prompted a willingness to go digital and to use those tools for their own advantage.”

Jolla hits profitability ahead of turning ten, eyes growth beyond mobile

By Natasha Lomas

A milestone for Jolla, the Finnish startup behind the Sailfish OS — which formed, almost a decade ago, when a band of Nokia staffers left to keep the torch burning for a mobile linux-based alternative to Google’s Android — today it’s announcing hitting profitability.

The mobile OS licensing startup describes 2020 as a “turning point” for the business — reporting revenues that grew 53% YoY, and EBITDA (which provides a snapshot of operational efficiency) standing at 34%.

It has a new iron in the fire too now — having recently started offering a new licensing product (called AppSupport for Linux Platforms) which, as the name suggests, can provide linux platforms with standalone compatibility with general Android applications — without a customer needing to licence the full Sailfish OS (the latter has of course baked in Android app compatibility since 2013).

Jolla says AppSupport has had some “strong” early interest from automotive companies looking for solutions to develop their in-case infotainment systems — as it offers a way for embedded Linux-compatible platform the capability to run Android apps without needing to opt for Google’s automotive offerings. And while plenty of car makers have opted for Android, there are still players Jolla could net for its ‘Google-free’ alternative.

Embedded linux systems also run in plenty of other places, too, so it’s hopeful of wider demand. The software could be used to enable an IoT device to run a particularly popular app, for example, as a value add for customers.

“Jolla is doing fine,” says CEO and co-founder Sami Pienimäki. “I’m happy to see the company turning profitable last year officially.

“In general it’s the overall maturity of the asset and the company that we start to have customers here and there — and it’s been honestly a while that we’ve been pushing this,” he goes, fleshing out the reasons behind the positive numbers with trademark understatement. “The company is turning ten years in October so it’s been a long journey. And because of that we’ve been steadily improving our efficiency and our revenue.

“Our revenue grew over 50% since 2019 to 2020 and we made €5.4M revenue. At the same time the cost base of the operation has stablized quite well so the sum of those resulted to nice profitability.”

While the consumer mobile OS market has — for years — been almost entirely sewn up by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, Jolla licenses its open source Sailfish OS to governments and business as an alternative platform they can shape to their needs — without requiring any involvement of Google.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Russia was one of the early markets that tapped in.

The case for digital sovereignty in general — and an independent (non-US-based) mobile OS platform provider, specifically — has been strengthened in recent years as geopolitical tensions have played out via the medium of tech platforms; leading to, in some cases, infamous bans on foreign companies being able to access US-based technologies.

In a related development this summer, China’s Huawei launched its own Android alternative for smartphones, which it’s called HarmonyOS.

Pienimäki is welcoming of that specific development — couching it as a validation of the market in which Sailfish plays.

“I wouldn’t necessarily see Huawei coming out with the HarmonyOS value proposition and the technology as a competitor to us — I think it’s more proving the point that there is appetite in the market for something else than Android itself,” he says when we ask whether HarmonyOS risks eating Sailfish’s lunch.

“They are tapping into that market and we are tapping into that market. And I think both of our strategies and messages support each other very firmly.”

Jolla has been working on selling Sailfish into the Chinese market for several years — and that sought for business remains a work in progress at this stage. But, again, Pienimäki says Jolla doesn’t see Huawei’s move as any kind of blocker to its ambitions of licensing its Android alternative in the Far East.

“The way we see the Chinese market in general is that it’s been always open to healthy competition and there is always competing solutions — actually heavily competing solutions — in the Chinese market. And Huawei’s offering one and we are happy to offer Sailfish OS for this very big, challenging market as well.”

“We do have good relationships there and we are building a case together with our local partners also to access the China market,” he adds. “I think in general it’s also very good that big corporations like Huawei really recognize this opportunity in general — and this shapes the overall industry so that you don’t need to, by default, opt into Android always. There are other alternatives around.”

On AppSupport, Jolla says the automative sector is “actively looking for such solutions”, noting that the “digital cockpit is a key differentiator for car markers — and arguing that makes it a strategically important piece for them to own and control.

“There’s been a lot of, let’s say, positive vibes in that sector in the past few years — new comers on the block like Tesla have really shaken the industry so that the traditional vendors need to think differently about how and what kind of user experience they provide in the cockpit,” he suggests.

“That’s been heavily invested and rapidly developing in the past years but I’m going to emphasize that at the same time, with our limited resources, we’re just learning where the opportunities for this technology are. Automative seems to have a lot of appetite but then [we also see potential in] other sectors — IoT… heavy industry as well… we are openly exploring opportunities… but as we know automotive is very hot at the moment.”

“There is plenty of general linux OS base in the world for which we are offering a good additional piece of technology so that those operating solutions can actually also tap into — for example — selected applications. You can think of like running the likes of Spotify or Netflix or some communications solutions specific for a certain sector,” he goes on.

“Most of those applications are naturally available both for iOS and Android platforms. And those applications as they simply exist the capability to run those applications independently on top of a linux platform — that creates a lot of interest.”

In another development, Jolla is in the process of raising a new growth financing round — it’s targeting €20M — to support its push to market AppSupport and also to put towards further growing its Sailfish licensing business.

It sees growth potential for Sailfish in Europe, which remains the biggest market for licensing the mobile OS. Pienimäki also says it’s seeing “good development” in certain parts of Africa. Nor has it given up on its ambitions to crack into China.

The growth round was opened to investors in the summer and hasn’t yet closed — but Jolla is confident of nailing the raise.

“We are really turning a next chapter in the Jolla story so exploring to new emerging opportunities — that requires capital and that’s what are looking for. There’s plenty of money available these days, in the investor front, and we are seeing good traction there together with the investment bank with whom we are working,” says Pienimäki.

“There’s definitely an appetite for this and that will definitely put us in a better position to invest further — both to Sailfish OS and the AppSupport technology. And in particular to the go-to market operation — to make this technology available for more people out there in the market.”

 

Xiaomi reports record 64% revenue growth, acquires Deepmotion for $77.3 million

By Manish Singh

Xiaomi reported a second-quarter net income of $1.28 billion on revenue of $13.56 billion following the Chinese technology giant’s strong surge in smartphone market share globally.

During the quarter that ended in June, Xiaomi said it saw a 64% year-on-year growth in revenue, and its net income surged over 80% from the same time a year ago.

The Hong Kong-listed firm said its smartphone revenue grew to $9.1 billion, thanks to a just as impressive jump in its smartphone shipment to 52.9 million units in the quarter, in which it topped Apple to become the world’s second-largest smartphone vendor, according to market intelligence firm Canalys.

The U.S. government’s sanctions against Huawei, Xiaomi’s chief domestic rival, has helped the younger firm — along with some other manufacturers — gain market share domestically as well as globally.

Xiaomi’s revenue from Internet of Things and lifestyle products category also saw a 36% jump in revenue to $3.2 billion.

Shortly after reporting its earnings results, the company said it will buy the four-year-old autonomous driving technology startup Deepmotion for about $77.3 million. The investment follows Xiaomi’s bold plan to invest $10 billion over the next decade in the electric vehicles space.

Xiaomi is the latest Chinese tech company to enter the EV industry. Chinese search engine giant Baidu earlier this year announced that it would be making EVs with the help of automaker Geely. In November, Alibaba and Chinese state-owned carmaker SAIC Motor said they had joined hands to produce electric cars. Ride-share leader Didi and EV maker BYD are also co-designing a model for ride-hailing.

As my colleague Rita Liao reported earlier:

The internet behemoths are competing with a raft of more specialized EV startups such as Xpeng, Nio and Li Auto, which have already debuted multiple models and are often compared to Tesla. They strive to differentiate from each other by investing in functions from in-car entertainment to autonomous driving.

For Xiaomi, the obvious advantage in making cars is its vast retail network and international brand recognition. Some of its smart devices, such as smart speakers and air purifiers, could be easily incorporated into its vehicles as selling points. The real challenge, of course, is in manufacturing. Compared to phone making, the automotive industry is more capital-intensive with a long and complex supply chain. We will see if Xiaomi will pull it off.

Xiaomi said Wednesday its investment in Deepmotion will help the giant shorten the time to market for its products.

Musk admits Full Self-Driving system ‘not great,’ blames a single stack for highway and city streets

By Rebecca Bellan

It hasn’t even been a week since Tesla hosted its AI Day, a livestreamed event full of technical jargon meant to snare the choicest of AI and vision engineers to come work for Tesla and help the company achieve autonomous greatness, and already CEO Elon Musk is coming in with some hot takes about the “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) tech.

Just drove FSD Beta 9.3 from Pasadena to LAX. Much improved!

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 24, 2021

In a tweet on Tuesday, Musk said: “FSD Beta 9.2 is actually not great imo, but 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.”

This is an important point. Many others in the autonomous space have mirrored this sentiment. Don Burnette, co-founder and CEO of Kodiak Robotics, says his company is exclusively focused on trucking for the moment because it’s a much easier problem to solve. In a recent Extra Crunch interview, Burnette said:

One of the unique aspects of our tech is that it’s highly customized for a specific goal. We don’t have this constant requirement that we maintain really high truck highway performance while at the same time really high dense urban passenger car performance, all within the same stack and system. Theoretically it’s certainly possible to create a generic solution for all driving in all conditions under all form factors, but it’s certainly a much harder problem.

Because Tesla is only using optical cameras, scorning lidar and radar, “massive” neural network training as a requirement is not an understatement at all.

Despite the sympathy we all feel for the AI and vision team that may undoubtedly be feeling a bit butthurt by Musk’s tweet, this is a singular moment of clarity and honesty for Musk. Usually, we have to filter Tesla news about its autonomy with a fine-tuned BS meter, one that beeps wildly with every mention of its “Full Self-Driving” technology. Which, for the record, is not at all full self-driving; it’s just advanced driver assistance that could, we grant, lay the groundwork for better autonomy in the future.

Musk followed up the tweet by saying that he just drove the FSD Beta 9.3 from Pasadena to LAX, a ride that was “much improved!” Do we buy it? Musk is ever the optimist. At the start of the month, Musk said Tesla would be releasing new versions of its FSD every two weeks at midnight California time. Then he promised that Beta 9.2 would be “tight,” saying that radar was holding the company back and now that it’s fully accepted pure vision, progress will go much faster.

There is always a lot of cleanup after a major code release. Beta 9.2 will be tight.

Still some fundamentals to solve for Beta 10, but now that we’re pure vision, progress is much faster. Radar was holding us back.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 31, 2021

Perhaps Musk is just trying to deflect against the flurry of bad press about the FSD system. Last week, U.S. auto regulators opened a preliminary investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot, citing 11 incidents in which vehicles crashed into parked first responder vehicles. Why first responder vehicles in particular, we don’t know. But according to investigation documents posted on the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s website, most of the incidents took place after dark. Poor night vision is definitely a thing with many human drivers, but those kinds of incidents just won’t fly in the world of autonomous driving.

 

Zūm CEO Ritu Narayan explains why equity and accessibility works for mobility services

By Rebecca Bellan

Getting children to school safely and reliably is a challenge as old as public education itself. But rarely have any entrepreneurs tackled the problem of updating and optimizing one of the nation’s largest legacy transit systems, now nearly a century old. It’s still common to find people at U.S. student transportation hubs speaking into walkie-talkies and wrangling clipboards as they sort passengers into gas-guzzling yellow buses.

Ritu Narayan was working as a product executive at eBay when her two children began attending school. Finding safe and reliable options for getting them to campus was sometimes so difficult that anytime those options would fall out, she would be on the verge of leaving her job.

“We had the minimum viable product, which we expanded upon, built the entire platform, and we kept on going to better places with our solutions.”

Bearing in mind that her mother in India had set aside a career to raise Narayan and her three siblings, she founded Zūm in 2016 with brothers Abhishek and Vivek Garg to optimize routes, create transparency and make school commutes greener; since then, Zūm has operated in several California districts (including San Francisco), as well as in Seattle, Chicago and Dallas. In Oakland, Zūm has optimized routes to reduce the previous bus requirement by 29 percent, with the balance being serviced by midsized vehicles.

Zūm also plans to have a fleet of 10,000 electric school buses by 2025 and is partnering with AutoGrid to transform that fleet into a virtual power plant with the potential capacity to route 1 GW of energy back to the grid.

To get a deeper look into the startup’s plans and hear what Narayan has learned from its journey so far, we discussed the pandemic’s impacts on Zūm’s development, where she thinks the company will be a year from now, and how she convinced investors to back a business model that embraces accessibility and equity.

(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

How did COVID-19 affect your business? What percentage of your business is back now?

It’s funny, because we used to say that student transportation is a recession-proof business, and no matter what, kids are still going to go to school, but the pandemic was the first time in probably the last 100 years when kids across the globe did not go to school. It was an interesting time for us, because overnight, all the rides were closed and we had to focus on what was needed immediately to support our districts and students.

We realized that the school is such an important physical infrastructure that’s not just for education, but students get meals there as well as physical and emotional help. So we helped the school districts with reverse logistics, taking the meals or laptops from the school districts and delivering them to homes, because our software could handle that kind of thing. That was just an interim to make sure the communities settled. Starting last year, rides started coming back around 30%, and this year starting in April, it has been 100% back in the business.

The Station: Bird’s improving scooter-nomics, breaking down Tesla AI day and the Nuro EC-1

By Kirsten Korosec

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

Hello readers: Welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B. I’m handing the wheel over to reporters Aria Alamalhodaei and Rebecca Bellan.

Before I completely leave though, I have to share the Nuro EC-1, a series of articles on the autonomous vehicle technology startup reported by investigative science and tech reporter Mark Harris with assistance from myself and our copy editorial team. This deep dive into Nuro is part of Extra Crunch’s flagship editorial offerings.

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

Micromobbin’

New York City finally launched its long-awaited scooter pilot in the Bronx this past week. Over 90 parking corrals specifically for e-scooters have been installed across the borough, but residents can also park in unobstructive locations on the sidewalk. Bird, Lime and Veo were the operators chosen for the pilot, each bringing their own sets of strengths. 

Bird says it intends to focus on the mobility gap in the Bronx and will use its AI drop engine to ensure equitable deployment across all neighborhoods in the pilot zone. Veo is focused on safety and accessibility, bringing its Astro VS4, the first e-scooter with turn signals, to the mix, as well as its Cosmo, a seated e-scooter. Lime is also focusing on accessibility, with its Lime Able program, which offers an on-demand suite of adaptive vehicles. Lime also highlighted a safety quiz it will require new riders to take before hopping on a vehicle. 

All three companies have promised to partner with community organizations to hire locally as well as to offer discounted pricing for vulnerable groups.

Big week for Bird

Not only has Bird officially launched in NYC, but it was also awarded a 12-month permit to operate 1,500 scooters in San Francisco. Well, technically it’s Scoot that got the permit, but Scoot is owned by Bird, and was kind of Bird’s backdoor way into the city. Last month, the SFMTA asked Scoot to halt its operations just as the fresh round of scooter permits were kicking off because the company was implementing its fleet manager program with unauthorized subcontractors. 

On Friday, after careful evaluation of Scoot’s application, SFMTA determined Scoot has qualified for a permit to operate. Scoot intends to have its vehicles back on the roads in the coming weeks. 

Bird also officially launched its consumer e-bike, dubbed the Bird Bike (which I think is also the name of their shared e-bike). Bird hasn’t had the easiest time with profitability, and really, not many scooter companies have, so this is a chance for Bird to diversify, get a piece of the $68 billion e-bike sales pie and create more brand awareness across marketplaces. The bike costs $2,229 and consumer sales will likely make up about 10% of Bird’s revenue going forward, per the company’s S-4 filing.

Bird (and Scoot) are now integrated with Google Maps. So is Spin, as of this week. More integrations like these, as we saw a couple weeks ago with Lime joining Moovit, demonstrate how shared micromobility is becoming more integrated with the way we think about moving around cities and planning our journeys. I heartily welcome such integrations. 

Finally, Alex Wilhelm dug into new financial data released by Bird. The tl;dr: the quarterly data shows an improving economic model and a multiyear path to profitability. However, that path is fraught unless a number of scenarios all work out in concert and without a glitch, Wilhelm reports.

 

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

Imagine a future in which drivers don’t charge their electric vehicles but instead swap out the batteries at small, roadside pods. That’s the future Ample is imagining, and this week it announced a fresh $160 million funding round to scale its operations.

The internationally funded Series C was led by Moore Strategic Ventures with participation from PTT, a Thai state-owned oil and gas company, and Disruptive Innovation Fund. Existing investors Eneos, a Japanese petroleum and energy company, and Singapore’s public transit operator SMRT also participated. Ample’s total funding is now $230 million.

It’s an interesting idea but one that will require considerable buy-in from automakers to make it a reality — for example, by selling vehicles with either a standard battery or Ample’s battery system pre-built in. But according to Ample co-founders John de Souza and Khaled Hassounah, it wouldn’t be all that complicated for OEMs to separate the battery from the car.

“The marketing departments at the OEMs want to tell you that … ‘This is a super-duper battery that is very well integrated with the car; there’s no way you can separate it,’ ” Hassounah said. “The truth of the matter is they’re built completely separately and so true for almost — not almost, for every battery in the car, including a Tesla.

“Since we’ve built our system to be easy to interface with different vehicles, we’ve abstracted the battery component … from the vehicle,” he added.

Other deals that got our attention this week …

AEye, the lidar startup, completed its reverse merger with special purpose acquisition company CF Finance Acquisition Corp. III. AEye is now a publicly traded company that trades on the Nasdaq exchange.

Canada Drives, an online car shopping and delivery platform, announced $79.4 million ($100 million CAD) in Series B funding that it will use to expand its service across Canada. The company is going to use its recent funding to keep enhancing the product, grow its inventory in existing and new markets and hire around 200 people over the next year, particularly in product development.

DigiSure, a digital insurance company that caters to modern mobility form factors like peer-to-peer marketplaces, is officially coming out of stealth to announce a $13.1 million pre-Series A funding round. The startup will use the funds to hire more than 50 engineers, data scientists, business development, insurance and compliance specialists, as well as scale into new industry verticals and across into Europe.

High Definition Vehicle Insurance Group, a commercial auto insurance company that is initially focused on trucking, raised $32.5 million in Series B funding round led by Weatherford Capital, with new investors Daimler Trucks North America and McVestCo, and continued participation from Munich Re Ventures, 8VC, Autotech Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures LLC.

RepairSmith, a mobile auto repair service that sends a mechanic right to the driver’s home, raised $42 million in fresh funding with the aim of expanding to all major metros by the end of 2022. The company is looking to disrupt auto servicing and repair, a massive industry that hasn’t seen much change in the past 40 years.

REE Automotive was awarded $17 million from the UK government as part of a $57 million investment, coordinated through the Advanced Propulsion Centre. The investment, the company said, is in line with the UK government’s ambition to accelerate the shift to zero-emission vehicles.

Swvl, a Dubai-based transit and mobility company, will be expanding into Europe and Latin America after it acquired a controlling interest in Shotl. Shotl, which is in 22 cities across 10 countries, matches passengers with shuttles and vans heading in that same direction. The company partners with governments and municipalities to provide mobility solutions for populations that are underserved by traditional mass transit options. While Swvl declined to share the financials of the transaction, a spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company’s “footprint is being doubled by this acquisition.”

Xos Inc., a manufacturer of electric Class 5 to Class 8 commercial vehicles completed its business combination with NextGen Acquisition Corporation. As a reuslt, Xos made its public debut on the Nasdaq exchange.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

Regarding Tesla investigations, when it rains it pours. First, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration opened a preliminary investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot advanced driver assistance system, citing 11 incidents in which vehicles crashed into parked first responder vehicles while the system was engaged.

The Tesla vehicles involved in the collisions were confirmed to have either have had engaged Autopilot or a feature called Traffic Aware Cruise Control, according to investigation documents posted on the agency’s website. Most of the incidents took place after dark and occurred despite “scene control measures,” such as emergency vehicle lights, road cones and an illuminated arrow board signaling drivers to change lanes.

A few days later, Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked the new chair of the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Tesla’s statements about the autonomous capabilities of its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving systems. The senators expressed particular concern over Tesla misleading customers into thinking their vehicles are capable of fully autonomous driving.

“Tesla’s marketing has repeatedly overstated the capabilities of its vehicles, and these statements increasingly pose a threat to motorists and other users of the road,” they said. “Accordingly, we urge you to open an investigation into potentially deceptive and unfair practices in Tesla’s advertising and marketing of its driving automation systems and take appropriate enforcement action to ensure the safety of all drivers on the road.”

Autonomous Vehicles

Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving arm, is seriously scaling up its autonomous trucking operations across Texas, Arizona and California. The company said it was building a dedicated trucking hub in Dallas and partnering with Ryder for fleet management services.

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.

Electric vehicles

Canoo is expecting 25,000 units out of its manufacturing partner VDL Nedcar’s facility by 2023, CEO Tony Aquila said during the company’s quarterly earnings call.

Year over year, Canoo upped its workforce from 230 to 656 total employees, 70% of which are hardware and software engineers. The startup’s operating expenses have increased from $19.8 million to $104.3 million YOY, with the majority of that increase coming from R&D.

Ford, Stellantis, Toyota and Volkswagen are among the carmakers this week that have announced production cuts in response to the ongoing global shortage of semiconductors. It’s been a grim week.

A brief run-down: Toyota said it anticipated a production drop of anywhere from 60,000-90,000 vehicles across North America in August. Then Ford joined the chorus, saying it would temporarily close its F-150 factory in Kansas City. Volkswagen told Reuters it couldn’t “rule out further changes to production” in light of the chip shortage. And finally, Stellantis is halting production at one of its factories in France.

Tesla unveiled what it’s calling the “D1” computer chip to power its advanced AI training supercomputer, Dojo, at its AI Day on Thursday. According to Tesla director Ganesh Venkataramanan, the D1 has GPU-level compute with CPU connectivity and twice the I/O bandwidth of “the state of the art networking switch chips that are out there today and are supposed to be the gold standards.”

Venkataramanan also revealed a “training tile” that integrates multiple chips to get higher bandwidth and an incredible computing power of 9 petaflops per tile and 36 terabytes per second of bandwidth. Together, the training tiles compose the Dojo supercomputer.

But there was more, of course. CEO Elon Musk also unveiled that the company is developing a humanoid robot, with a prototype expected in 2022. The bot is being proposed as a non-automotive robotic use case for the company’s work on neural networks and its Dojo advanced supercomputer.

Reality check: Tesla is not the first automaker, or company, to dip its toe into humanoid robot development.  Honda’s Asimo robot has been around for decades, Toyota and GM have their own robots and Hyundai recently acquired robotics company Boston Dynamic.

The full rundown of Tesla’s AI Day can be found here.

In-car tech

General Motors and AT&T will be rolling out 5G connectivity in select Chevy, Cadillac and GMC vehicles from model year 2024, in a boost that the two companies say will bring more reliable software updates, faster navigation and downloads and better coverage on roadways.

5G technology has generated a lot of hype for its promises to boost speed and reduce latency across a range of industries, a next-gen tech that everyone thought would change the world far sooner than now. That hasn’t happened (yet), in part because network rollout was much slower than people anticipated. So this announcement can be taken as a clear signal that, at the very least, AT&T thinks its 5G network will be mature enough to handle “millions” of connected vehicles by 2024.

Ride-hailing

RubiRides, a new ride-hailing company focuses on transporting kids, launched in the Washington D.C. metro area. The ride-hailing service is designed for children ages 7 and older. But the service also offers ride services for seniors and people with special needs. The company was founded by Noreen Butler, who was inspired to start the company after searching for transportation to support the busy schedules of her children.

Mobility startup Plentywaka picks up $1.2M seed, acquires Ghana’s Stabus

By Tage Kene-Okafor

Lagos and Toronto-based mobility startup Plentywaka has raised a $1.2 million seed round to scale its operations on the back of leaving the Techstars Toronto accelerator program last month. 

Canadian-based VC firm The Xchange led the round, SOSV and Shock Ventures participated, while Techstars Toronto made a follow-on investment. Nigerian firms Argentil Capital Partners and ODBA & Co Ventures took part in the seed round, alongside some angel investors from Canada, other parts of Africa, and the U.S.

In March, when TechCrunch covered Plentywaka, CEO Onyeka Akumah said the two-year-old company eyed both regional and global expansion. There hasn’t been much development on the latter except that the company set up its headquarters in Canada. However, for the former, it’s in the form of an acquisition. The company says it has fully acquired Ghanaian mobility startup Stabus but declined to comment on the acquisition price.

Plentywaka is primarily a bus-booking platform but, per its website, has over 900 vehicles ranging from cars to vans to buses. The company provides intrastate travel (via its Dailywaka offering) and interstate travel (via its Travelwaka offering) for its users via a mobile application. Since going live in September 2019,  Plentywaka says it has acquired over 80,000 users while completing up to half a million rides.

Stabus, on the other hand, commenced operations in Ghana a month after Plentywaka’s launch. Its co-founder and CEO, Isidore Kpotufe, shared that the startup has since moved over 100,000 people within the country’s capital city Accra using different vehicles.

Plentywaka

The Plentywaka and Stabus executives

Akumah tells TechCrunch that before talks on an acquisition started, he and Kpotufe kept in touch frequently on a personal and business level since they launched their respective companies two years ago.

Then in April this year, Isidore, intrigued by the pace at which Plentywaka was scaling, asked Akumah if his company had plans to scale to Ghana. The Plentywaka CEO answered in the affirmative, revealing a timeline edging towards the end of the year. That meant competition, but the duo thought the better outcome for both companies was to merge.

“Isidore is someone I’ve known for going to two years now. And I’ve seen what he has done with Stabus and I understand exactly how they operate. So it was an easy yes for us to do this,” Akumah said to TechCrunch.

The complexities of what structure to use came up; run with the Stabus brand or change it. Eventually, they settled for the latter, renaming the acquired 12,000-user strong business to Plentywaka Ghana. Some of Stabus’ (now Plentywaka Ghana) customers include multinationals like MTN and GB Foods. Meanwhile, Kpotufe becomes Country Manager of the new business.

“Plentywaka’s acquisition of Stabus is a firm statement about our commitment to grow and build the largest shared mobility startup in Africa, one country at a time. Isidore is a brilliant entrepreneur and we are excited about having him and his team execute our plans for the Ghanaian market,” Akumah said in a statement.

In Nigeria, the company caters to travelers across 21 cities. Travelers in Accra will begin to use the service when Plentywaka Ghana goes live on September 16. And the next plan after Accra is to replicate the expansion in six other African countries within 24 months. Akumah also mentioned that Plentywaka is raising its Series A to ramp up these expansion efforts.

“We are incredibly excited by our investment in Plentywaka. Techstars is a huge believer in the future of Africa and a proud supporter of African entrepreneurs. Onyeka is a two-time Techstars founder which deepens this relationship further,” managing director of Techstars Sunil Sharma said in a statement.

Speaking on the seed round, managing partner at lead investor The Xchange, Todd Finch said, “The Xchange is on a mission to fuel purpose-driven founders with the capital and resources they need to realize the world-changing potential of their ideas. Given Onyeka’s proven track record, his team’s undeniable thirst for making an impact, and Plentywaka’s impressive growth, we knew this was an opportunity we wanted to invest in.” 

Y Combinator, 500 Startups, Plug and Play invest in Odiggo’s $2.2M seed round

By Tage Kene-Okafor

Servicing one’s car personally is a time-consuming, expensive and painstaking process. It’s a cycle that can lead to more expensive repairs and safety issues down the line, and no car owner likes that.

Egypt and Dubai-based auto tech startup Odiggo is a platform addressing this problem. It allows car owners to get the help they need by finding car services and parts suppliers from providers around them. Then for the suppliers, it increases their sales and reaches more customers without necessarily spending on marketing.

Odiggo is part of the current YC Summer batch and has secured a $2.2 million seed round before Demo Day. The rosters of existing investors participating in the round are Y Combinator, 500 Startups, and Plug and Play Ventures. Regional VCs like Seedra Ventures, LoftyInc Capital, and Essa Al-Saleh (CEO of Volta-Tucks) also took part.

Ahmed Omar and Ahmed Nasser launched Odiggo in December 2019. The company operates a marketplace that connects car owners with service providers who can solve their problems, from servicing and repair to washing and maintenance. A commission-based model is used and Odiggo charges the car suppliers 20% commission on every transaction.

Over 50,000 car owners across three markets — Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia — use Odiggo. The company also works directly with over 300 merchants. It claims merchant numbers have grown 40% month-on-month while its user base has increased 200% since the start of the pandemic.

We believe we are at a watershed moment. It is incredible that since COVID hit, Odiggo has experienced over 10 times growth in the last year,” said co-founder Omar. 

CEO Omar said with this new round, Odiggo’s priority will be to attain consistent growth while expanding its team across the UEA, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Odiggo

L-R: Ahmed Nassir (co-founder) & Ahmed Omar (co-founder and CEO)

He adds that since Odiggo taps into a mix of data sources — including car metrics and internal software, it will use that same information to provide more product offerings.

Odiggo will use part of the funding to continue developing its tech and dashboard software, he said.

“For example, the platform would be hooked up to the car owner’s vehicle and link the vehicle to the marketplace and provide frequent updates of your vehicle condition so you’ll be informed if the tires are low, the oil needs changing, or if a service is required.”

The pandemic has upended the mobility and logistics sectors, especially in MENA, making players like Odiggo gain much visibility from investors. In an industry today worth over $61 billion in the Middle East and Africa alone, Odiggo is looking to become a market leader. It has even more lofty plans to go public in the next three years.

“We are also aiming to be fully focused on spending more on our product and technology, as building an ecosystem to monetize requires more capital. Our target is to go for IPO by 2024 and achieve one billion services booked, and this requires a lot of network effects, infrastructure and technology,” the CEO said.

“We aim to be the first $100 billion company coming out of the region,” added Nasser.

Some of its investors, Idris Ayodeji Bello, managing partner at LoftyInc, and Essa Al-Saleh, are onboard with the startup’s plan despite early days.

“We are excited to back Odiggo through our Afropreneurs Funds in its quest to transform the automotive parts market and provide superior service to clients, starting from MENA. The leadership team of Omar and Nasser, supported by the rest of the employees, have been a joy to work with and we are on a countdown to the IPO,” said Bello in a statement

General Motors issues third recall for Chevrolet Bolt EVs, citing rare battery defects

By Aria Alamalhodaei

General Motors is recalling even more Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles due to possible battery cell defects that could increase the risk of fire. This latest recall, announced by the automaker on Friday, marks the third time GM has issued the consumer notice for the Bolt.

The second recall, which was issued in July, covered 2017 to 2019 Bolt EVs. Now, GM is expanding that recall to include an additional 9,335 2019 model year Bolts, as well as 63,683 2020–2022 Bolt EV and EUV vehicles.

“In rare circumstances, the batteries supplied to GM for these vehicles may have two manufacturing defects – a torn anode tab and folded separator – present in the same battery cell, which increases the risk of fire,” the company said in a news release. It added that it was working with its cell supplier, South Korea’s LG, regarding the issue.

This recall is expected to cost GM an additional $1 billion – that’s on top of the $800 million the company has already estimated for the prior recalls. Costs associated with fixing defective Bolt batteries made up the lion’s share of GM’s $1.3 billion in warranty expenses last quarter, the automaker said in an earnings call earlier this month.

GM is recommending that included Bolt drivers to a 90 percent state of charge limitation and avoid depleting the battery below a 70 mile range. The automaker also suggests parking the vehicle outside right after charging and not leaving the vehicle charging indoors overnight – likely due to the risk of fire. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration released its own recommendation to Bolt drivers to park their vehicles away from their homes to reduce fire risk.

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