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Ford-owned Spin shakes up scooter business with new CEO, e-bikes and city strategy

By Rebecca Bellan

Spin, the Ford-owned micromobility operator, has added a new CEO, launched a new strategy to capture market share and announced a plan to get back into bike share, although this time with an electric twist. 

The flurry of moves suggest that Spin is still trying to figure out the best path forward to push past its rivals and become profitable. Under the changes announced Thursday, co-founder and CEO Derrick Ko is moving to a strategic advisory role, along with the other two co-founders Zaizhuang Cheng and Euwyn Poon. In Ko’s place is Ben Bear, who previously served as CBO of Spin.

Alongside the change in leadership, Spin is deploying e-bikes for the first time, expanding to multiple cities in the U.S. and Europe, implementing new technologies and coming for Bird as the Number Two e-scooter company in the country (behind Lime, of course). 

Pressure among micromobility operators to actually turn a profit is increasing, so Spin is flexing its compliance record in order to secure those limited vendor permits. The end game is to angle for more exclusive, and perhaps more lucrative, partnerships with cities. Amid all this activity are reports that Ford might be divesting Spin into a separate company, including a sale or spinoff of the subsidiary. Which leads us to wonder in which direction the new CEO will be steering this ship. 

“We’re full speed ahead on the hiring front, and we’ve got ambitious growth plans for this year, heading into 2022 and beyond,” Bear told TechCrunch. “We really think the market is reaching a tipping point where cities are more and more moving towards limited vendor permits, which is right where we’re focused and have been focused throughout our history.”

(Spin would not comment on the reports of Ford divesting the e-scooter company.) 

Most cities have evolved from an unregulated market to an open one, and many, like Atlanta and Washington, D.C., are operating limited vendor permits. Spin is counting on this trend continuing to exclusive vendor permits, similar to the deal Lyft-owned Citi Bike has made with New York City. This might mean going after mid-tier cities that charge Spin less in fees, or even pay them to operate.

“In Bakersfield, we recently received a $1.1 million state grant to install infrastructure and conduct the program, and then $257,000 from the city as well to make sure that the project was supported, and that we’re able to offer low-cost rides to residents who need that,” said Bear. 

In Grand Rapids, Spin is working with nonprofits to deliver scooters as an addition to public transportation, and in Pittsburgh, the company has integrated with the public transit app to make different types of mobility as frictionless as possible. 

“We definitely see ourselves as part of that broader ecosystem, which includes public transit,” said Bear. 

Spin claims that its win rate on new markets in the U.S. is 85% and its renewal rate is 93%. However, the company has lost a few big permit awards, including New York City and Paris. Of its nearly 100 markets in the U.S., a large majority are made up of mid-tier cities and college campuses. Spin says it will be in up to 25 additional U.S. markets through the rest of the year, with plans to expand to Portugal and Ireland, as well. 

Of Spin’s nearly 100 markets in the U.S. and Europe, over 70% are limited vendor exclusive, according to Bear. He says Spin’s reputation of ensuring safety, compliance and equitable service for residents makes it a trusted city partner. But if it wants to monopolize the micromobility of cities, it has to provide a multi-modal fleet. Enter electric bikes. 

Spin also announced plans to roll out up to 5,000 e-bikes on the streets this year, starting with Providence, Rhode Island on June 14. It will also bring e-bikes, as well as e-scooters, to recently won markets like Fort Collins, Colorado; Bakersfield, California; and Penn State University — all of which are exclusive partnerships. 

Spin was founded as a pedal bike share in 2017, but pivoted to e-scooters the following year. Of the major micromobility companies, Spin is a bit late to the e-bike party. Bear says the company wanted to delay bringing e-bikes to market until the form factor had developed enough to be as compelling as its scooters. This prudence could just as well hurt the success of its e-bike program if Spin isn’t bringing something as good as an e-bike that’s already been through multiple iterations of deployed field use. First-generation hardware is rarely, if ever, perfect out the gate. And since Spin hasn’t run a fleet of e-bikes yet, it might not be the smoothest management transition. 

Either way, e-bikes aren’t the only iron in Spin’s fire. True to its promise of being what cities want a micromobility operator to be, Spin is thinking strategically about technological add-ons. For example, Spin has partnered with computer vision startup Drover AI to launch its Spin Insight Level 2, or a bundle of sensors, cameras and on-board computing power to detect sidewalk and bike lane riding and validate parking. Spin launched this new capability for the first time on Wednesday, deploying 100 Drover-tech equipped e-scooters in Milwaukee with plans to launch in Miami, Seattle and Santa Monica, as well. Last month, Bird was booted by the Santa Monica City Council in favor of Spin, Veo and Lyft and will have to remove all of its scooters from its own hometown by July. 

Seattle and Santa Monica, along with Boise, Idaho, will also be seeing some of Spin’s new tech in the form of the S-200, a three-wheeled adaptive sit-down scooter. The vehicle is built in tandem with mobility startup Tortoise, whose repositioning software allows remote operators to move vehicles off sidewalks and into proper parking spots, as well as rebalance them. 

Delivery, drones and DHL

By Brian Heater

Locus (not to be confused with this Locus) is one of those names that’s been popping up a lot in the news — and this roundup — over the past year. Last time we spoke to the Massachusetts company, it was around a sizable raise — $150 million to be nearly precise. That effectively valued the company as a unicorn.

Core to the company’s successes are its partnerships (as is the case with any robotics fulfillment company). DHL has been a big (or the biggest) name in the mix since 2017. Amid pandemic lockdowns, the logistic giant signed up for 1,000 robots last year and, as of yesterday, is doubling that number.

Image Credits: Locus Robotics

DHL is really committing to robotics here. At last count, it said it had deployed around 200,000 across the U.S. alone, which puts its right around the same number as Amazon (which admittedly, hasn’t updated that figure lately). Of course, the big difference there is that Amazon is primarily pulling from in-house systems — perhaps Locus is a prime acquisition target?

The robotics company’s CEO shot down that suggestion when I spoke to him earlier this year, stating, “We have no interest in being acquired. We think we can build the most and greatest value by operating independently. There are investors that want to invest in helping everyone that’s not named ‘Amazon’ compete.”

When it comes to companies with deep pockets, though, I never say never.

Also out this morning, is a good size round from Realtime Robotics. The Boston-based company is one of a number of startups looking to streamline the process of installing and deploying industrial robotics. The $31.4 million Series A includes participation from (deep breath)  HAHN Automation, SAIC Capital Management, Soundproof Ventures , Heroic Ventures, SPARX Asset Management, Omron Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Scrum Ventures and Duke Angels.

Image Credits: E-Nano

There’s no such thing as a small raise, only a small…I’m not sure. Honestly, I didn’t really thing this one all the way through before I started typing. Anyway, here’s an early-stage, pre-seed from a London based startup called E-Nano. The company has developed a modular robotics system for monitoring sports turf.

Per a press release on the £100,000 ($141,000) raise, “These robots will eventually be able to assess agricultural land and contribute to landowners growing more sustainably. The team aims to implement 5G connectivity into their robots and platform, using this raise to deliver more immediate, real-time data with high throughput.”

 

Some good news for DJI comes courtesy of The Hill, which reports that the Pentagon has effectively cleared the drone giant in an audit. DJI was one of the names caught up in all of the flagging of Chinese companies that’s occurred over the past couple of years (read: during the Trump administration), which has severely kneecapped brands like Huawei and ZTE. DJI was never banned for sale outright in the States, but this is still a pretty massive relief for its ability to operate in such a large market.

The filing notes that it found “no malicious code or intent” from the company, going so far as “recommend[ing] use by government entities and forces working with US services.” Government use is a nice bonus there.

The company took a victory lap in a comment provided to TechCrunch, noting, “This U.S. government report is the strongest confirmation to date of what we, and independent security validations, have been saying for years – DJI drones are safe and secure for government and enterprise operations.”

Starship delivery robots

Starship delivery robots at UCLA campus on January 15th, 2021. Image Credits: Starship/Copyright Don Liebig/ASUCLA

Starship Technologies, meanwhile, snagged a high-profile name to lead the delivery robotics firm. Former Alphabet Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth will be taking the same title at his new company.

Incidentally, Starship is one of a trio of companies I’ll be speaking with during my delivery robotics panel (also Nuro and Gatik) at the upcoming TC Sessions: Mobility. We also just announced my second panel, which will be exploring a pretty vibrant category in automotive.

Image Credits: Ford/Agility Robotics

Max Bajracharya of TRI (Toyota), Mario Santillo of Ford and Ernestine Fu of Hyundai Motor Group will be discussing their respective employers’ approach to robotics beyond manufacturing and autonomy. They’re all doing really interesting stuff, and Hyundai, of course, is getting ready to close its acquisition of Boston Dynamics.

Should be fun. Register here.

Indian logistics giant Delhivery raises $277 million ahead of IPO

By Manish Singh

Delhivery, India’s largest independent e-commerce logistics startup, has raised $277 million in what is expected to be the final funding round before the firm files for an IPO later this year.

In a regulatory filing, the Gurgaon-headquartered startup disclosed it had raised $277 million in a round led by Boston-headquartered investment firm Fidelity. Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC, Abu Dhabi’s Chimera, and UK’s Baillie Gifford also participated in the new round, a name of which the startup didn’t specify.

The new round valued the 10-year-old startup at about $3 billion. Delhivery — which also counts SoftBank Vision Fund, Tiger Global Management, Times Internet, The Carlyle Group, and Steadview Capital among its investors — has raised about $1.23 billion to date. The startup didn’t comment on Sunday.

Delhivery began its life as a food delivery firm, but has since shifted to a full suite of logistics services in over 2,300 Indian cities and more than 17,500 zip codes.

It is among a handful of startups attempting to digitize the demand and supply system of the logistics market through a freight exchange platform.

Research and image: Bernstein

Its platform connects consigners, agents and truckers offering road transport solutions. The startup says the platform reduces the role of brokers, makes some of its assets such as trucking — the most popular transportation mode for Delhivery — more efficient, and ensures round the clock operations.

This digitization is crucial to address the inefficiencies in the Indian logistics industry that has long stunted the national economy. Poor planning and forecasting of demand and supply increases the carrying costs, theft, damages, and delays, analysts at Bernstein wrote in a report last month about India’s logistics market.

Delhivery, which says it has delivered over 1 billion orders, works with “all of India’s largest e-commerce companies and leading enterprises,” according to its website, where it also says the startup has worked with over 10,000 customers. For the last leg of the delivery, its couriers are assigned an area that never exceeds 2 sq km, allowing them to make several delivery runs a day to save time.

Indian logistics market’s TAM (total addressable market) is over $200 billion, Bernstein analysts said.

The startup said late last year that it was planning to invest over $40 million within two years to expand and increase its fleet size to meet the growing demand of orders as more people shop online amid the pandemic.

Experts from Toyota, Ford and Hyundai will discuss automotive robotics at TC Sessions: Mobility

By Brian Heater

The events of the past year have only served to accelerate interest in all things robotics and automation. It’s a phenomenon we’ve seen across a broad range of categories, and automotive is certainly no different.

Of course, carmakers are no strangers to the world of robotics. Automation has long played a key role in manufacturing, and more recently, robotics have played another central role in the form of self-driving vehicles. For this panel, however, we’re going to look past those much-discussed categories. Of late, carmakers have been investing heavily to further fuel innovation in the category.

It’s a fascinating space — and one that covers a broad range of cross-sections, from TRI’s (Toyota) Woven City project to Ford’s recent creation of a research facility at U of M to Hyundai’s concept cars and acquisition of Boston Dynamics. At TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9, we will be joined by a trio of experts from these companies for what’s sure to be a lively discussion on the topic.

Max Bajracharya is Vice President of Robotics at Toyota Research Institute. Previously serving as its Director of Robotics, he leads TRI’s work in robotics. He previously served at Alphabet’s X, as part of the Google Robotics team.

Mario Santillo is a Technical Expert at Ford. Previously serving as a Research Engineer for the company, he’s charged with helping lead the company’s efforts at a recently announced $75 million research facility at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The work includes both Ford’s own robotics work, as well as partnerships with startups like Agility.

Ernestine Fu is a director at Hyundai Motor Group. She heads development at the newly announced New Horizons Studio, a group tasked with creating Ultimate Mobility Vehicles (UMVs). She also serves as an adjunct professor at Stanford University, where she received a BS, MS, MBA and PhD.

Get ready to talk robots at TC Sessions: Mobility. Grab your passes right now for $125 and hear from today’s biggest mobility leaders before our prices go up at the door.

 

Brazilian proptech startup QuintoAndar lands $300M at a $4B valuation

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Fintech and proptech are two sectors that are seeing exploding growth in Latin America, as financial services and real estate are two categories in particular dire need of innovation in a region.

Brazil’s QuintoAndar, which has developed a real estate marketplace focused on rentals and sales, has seen impressive growth in recent years. Today, the São Paulo-based proptech has announced it has closed on $300 million in a Series E round of funding that values it at an impressive $4 billion.

The round is notable for a few reasons. For one, the valuation — high by any standards but especially for a LatAm company — represents an increase of four times from when QuintoAndar raised a $250 million Series D in September 2019.

It’s also noteworthy who is backing the company. Silicon Valley-based Ribbit Capital led its Series E financing, which also included participation from SoftBank’s LatAm-focused Innovation Fund, LTS, Maverik, Alta Park, an undisclosed U.S.-based asset manager fund with over $2 trillion in AUM, Kaszek Ventures, Dragoneer and Accel partner Kevin Efrusy.

Having backed the likes of Coinbase, Robinhood and CreditKarma, Ribbit Capital has historically focused on early-stage investments in the fintech space. Its bet on QuintoAndar represents clear faith in what the company is building, as well as its confidence in the startup’s plans to branch out from its current model into a one-stop real estate shop that also offers mortgage, title, insurance and escrow services.

The latest round brings QuintoAndar’s total raised since its 2013 inception to $635 million.

Ribbit Capital Partner Nick Huber said QuintoAndar has over the years built “a unique and trusted brand in Brazil” for those looking for a place to call home.

“Whether you are looking to buy or to rent, QuintoAndar can support customers through the entire transaction process: from browsing verified inventory to signing the final contracts,” Huber told TechCrunch. “The ability to serve customers’ needs through each phase of life and to do so from start to finish is a unique capability, both in Brazil and around the world.”

QuintoAndar describes itself as an “end-to-end solution for long-term rentals” that, among other things, connects potential tenants to landlords and vice versa. Last year, it expanded also into connecting a home buyers to sellers.

Image Credits: QuintoAndar

TechCrunch spoke with co-founder and CEO Gabriel Braga and he shared details around the growth that has attracted such a bevy of high-profile investors.

Like most other businesses around the world, QuintoAndar braced itself for the worst when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year — especially considering one core piece of its business is to guarantee rents to the landlords on its platform.

“In the beginning, we were afraid of the implications of the crisis but we were able to honor our commitments,” Braga said. “In retrospect, the pandemic was a big test for our business model and it has validated the strength and defensibility of our business on the credit side and reinforced our value proposition to tenants and landlords. So after the initial scary moments, we actually felt even more confident in the business that we are building.”

QuintoAndar describes itself as “a distant market leader” with more than 100,000 rentals under management and about 10,000 new rentals per month. Its rental platform is live in 40 cities across Brazil, while its home-buying marketplace is live in four. Part of its plans with the new capital is to expand into new markets within Brazil, as well as in Latin America as a whole.

The startup claims that, in less than a year, QuintoAndar managed to aggregate the largest inventory among digital transactional platforms. It now offers more than 60,000 properties for sale across Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belho Horizonte and Porto Alegre. To give greater context around the company’s growth of that side of its platform: In its first year of operation, QuintoAndar closed more than 1,000 transactions. It has now surpassed the mark of 8,000 transactions in annualized terms, growing between 50% and 100% quarter over quarter.

As for the rentals side of its business, Braga said QuintoAndar has more than 100,000 rentals under management and is closing about 10,000 new rentals per month. The company is not profitable as it’s focused on growth, although it’s unit economics are particularly favorable in certain markets such as Sao Paulo, which is financing some of its growth in other cities, according to Braga.

Now, the 2,000-person company is looking to begin its global expansion with plans to enter the Mexican market later this year. With that, Braga said QuintoAndar is looking to hire “top-tier” talent from all over.

“We want to invest a lot in our product and tech core,” he said. “So we’re trying to bring in more senior people from abroad, on a global basis.”

Some history

CEO Braga and CTO André Penha came up with the idea for QuintoAndar after receiving their MBAs at Stanford University. As many startups do, the company was founded out of Braga’s personal “nightmare” of an experience — in this case, of trying to rent an apartment in Sao Paulo.

The search process, he recalls, was difficult as there was not enough information available online and renters were forced to provide a guarantor, or co-signer, from the same city or pay rent insurance, which Braga described as “very expensive.”

“Overall, I felt it was a very inefficient and fragmented process with no transparency or tech,” Braga told me at the time of the company’s last raise. “There was all this friction and high cost involved, just real tangible problems to solve.”

The concept for QuintoAndar (which can be translated literally to “Fifth Floor” in Portuguese) was born.

“Little by little, we created a platform that consolidated supply and inventory in a uniform way,” Braga said.

The company took the search phase online for the first time, according to Braga. It also eliminated the need for tenants to provide a guarantor, thereby saving them money. On the other side, QuintoAndar also works to help protect the landlord with the guarantee that they will get their rent “on time every month,” Braga said.

It’s been interesting watching the company evolve and grow over time, just as it’s been fascinating seeing the region’s startup scene mature and shine in recent years.

Tesla has activated its in-car camera to monitor drivers using Autopilot

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla has enabled the in-car camera in its Model 3 and Model Y vehicles to monitor drivers when its Autopilot advanced driver assistance system is being used.

In a software update, Tesla indicated the “cabin camera above the rearview mirror can now detect and alert driver inattentiveness while Autopilot is engaged.” Notably, Tesla has a closed loop system for the data, meaning imagery captured by the camera does not leave the car. The system cannot save of transit information unless data sharing is enabled, according to Tesla. The firmware update was cited by a number of Tesla owners active on Twitter.

Tesla has faced criticism for not activating a driver monitoring system within the vehicle even as evidence mounted that owners were misusing the system. Owners have posted dozens of videos on YouTube and TikTok abusing the Autopilot system — some of whom have filmed themselves sitting in the backseat as vehicle drives along the highway. Several fatal crashes involving Tesla vehicles that had Autopilot engaged has put more pressure on the company to act.

Until now, Tesla has not used the camera installed in its vehicles and instead relied on sensors in the steering wheel that measured torque — a method that is supposed to require the driver to keep their hands on the wheel. Drivers have documented and shared on social media how to trick the sensors into thinking a human is holding the wheel.

Tesla didn’t share details about the driver monitoring system — for instance, is it tracking eye gaze or head position — or whether it will be used to allow hands-free driving. GM’s Super Cruise and Ford’s Blue Cruise advanced driver assistance systems allow for hands-free driving on certain divided highways. Their systems use a combination of map data, high-precision GPS, cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system that monitors the person behind the wheel, to ensure drivers are paying attention.

Tesla vehicles come standard with a driver assistance system branded as Autopilot. For an additional $10,000, owners can buy “full self-driving,” or FSD — a feature that CEO Elon Musk promises will one day deliver full autonomous driving capabilities. FSD, which has steadily increased in price and capability, has been available as an option for years.

However, Tesla vehicles are not self-driving. FSD includes the parking feature Summon as well as Navigate on Autopilot, an active guidance system that navigates a car from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, including interchanges and making lane changes. Once drivers enter a destination into the navigation system, they can enable “Navigate on Autopilot” for that trip.

The move comes just a week after Tesla tweeted that its Model Y and Model 3 vehicles bound for North American customers are being built without radar, fulfilling a desire by Musk to only use cameras combined with machine learning to support Autopilot and other active safety features.

Automakers typically use a combination of radar and cameras — and even lidar — to provide the sensing required to deliver advanced driver assistance system features like adaptive cruise control, which matches the speed of a car to surrounding traffic, as well as lane keeping and automatic lane changes. Musk has touted the potential of its branded “Tesla Vision” system, which only uses cameras and so-called neural net processing to detect and understand what is happening in the environment surrounding the vehicle and then respond appropriately.

The decision to pull radar out of the vehicles has caused some blowback for the company. Consumer Reports no longer lists the Model 3 as a Top Pick and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said it plans to remove the Model 3’s Top Safety Pick+ designation. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration has said that Model 3 and Model Y vehicles built on or after April 27, 2021 will no longer receive the agency’s check mark for automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and dynamic brake support.

Ford’s $30B investment in electric revs up in-house battery R&D

By Rebecca Bellan

Ford is increasing its investment in its electric vehicle future to $30 billion by 2025, up from a previous spend of $22 billion by 2023. The company announced the fresh cashflow into its EV and battery development strategy, dubbed Ford+, during an investor day on Tuesday. 

The company said it expects 40% of its global vehicle volume to be fully electric by 2030. Ford sold 6,614 Mustang Mach-Es in the U.S. in Q1, and since it unveiled its F-150 Lightning last week, the company says it has already amassed 70,000 customer reservations. 

The Ford+ plan reveals the new path automakers will have to take if they want to keep up with an EV future. Historically, China, Japan and Korea have owned much of the world’s battery manufacturing, but as major OEMs begin building electric cars, the demand is far outstripping supply, forcing car manufacturers to invest their own resources into development. General Motors is building a battery factory with LG in Ohio, and BMW joined Ford to invest in solid state battery startup Solid Power.

This investment “underscores our belief that production-feasible solid state batteries are within reach in this decade,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s chief product platform and operations officer, during the investor day. “Solid Power’s sulphide-based solid electrolyte and silicon-based anode chemistry delivers impressive battery improvements in performance, including increased range, lower cost, more vehicle interior space and better value and greater safety for our customers.”

The solid state battery manufacturing process doesn’t differ too much from the existing lithium ion battery process, so Ford will be able to reuse about 70% of its manufacturing lines and capital investment, according to Thai-Tang. 

At Ford’s Ion Park facility, a battery R&D center Ford is building in Michigan, the automaker has brought together a team of 150 experts to research and create a game plan for the next generation of lithium ion chemistries and Ford’s new energy-dense battery technology, the Ion Boost +.

“Our ultimate goal is to deliver a holistic ecosystem including services that should allow us to achieve higher profitability over time with BEVs than we do today with ICE vehicles,” said Thai-Tang.

The Ion Boost +’s unique cell pouch format is not only ideal for powering Ford’s larger vehicles, but it could also help the company reduce battery costs 40% by mid-decade, the company says. 

“The cell chemistry, coupled with Ford’s proprietary battery control algorithm featuring high accuracy sensing technology, delivers higher efficiency and range for customers,” said Thai-Tang.

For commercial vehicles, Ford is working on a battery cell made with lithium ion phosphate chemistry, which it’s calling the Ion Boost Pro, which it says is cheaper and better for duty cycles that require less range.

Canoo’s electric microbus will start under $35,000 when it comes to market next year

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Los Angeles-based electric vehicle startup Canoo is bringing its first vehicle to market next year. The company said Monday its electric microbus-slash-van will be available to buy in 2022 at a base price of $34,750 before tax incentives or add-ons. It’s now taking preorders in the United States for the “lifestyle” vehicle, as well as for its round-top pickup truck and multi-purpose delivery van.

While Canoo did not release pricing for the other two vehicles, it did said that deliveries for the pickup and production for the delivery van are slated to start as early as 2023. Customers can reserve a model by placing a $100 deposit per vehicle with the company.

The lifestyle van will come in four trims, including base, premium, adventure and so-called Lifestyle Vehicle Delivery The adventure variant, which is the top trim and comes with more ground clearance and beefier profile, does not yet have a price. The base, delivery (not to be confused with the bigger multipurpose delivery van) and premium models will be priced up to $49,950, the company said. The company said the lifestyle van is expected to be able to produce 300 hp and 332 pound-feet of torque with 250 miles of battery range.

Canoo is taking a different route than many other electric vehicle manufacturers. The company’s trio of vehicles all have the same proprietary “skateboard” platform architecture that houses the batteries and electric drivetrain in a chassis that sits under the vehicle’s cabin. This contributes to a similar design language between the vehicles, which all have the same wide front windshield and relatively low profile.

The company is especially deviating from competitors with its electric pickup, which is scheduled to go into production in early 2023. As opposed to rivals Ford and Rivian, which are emphasizing size and power in their respective F-150 Lighting and R1T pickup trucks, Canoo’s is smaller and more playful-looking. The Rivian R1T clocks in at 218 inches long, while the Canoo truck will be 184 inches. Canoo is also claiming a battery range of 200+ miles, far less than the 300+ boasted by other EV truck manufacturers. None of these companies have posted what the range will be when towing.

Canoo has undergone many transformations since its founding as Evelozcity in 2017. It was rebranded as Canoo in 2019 and merged with special purpose acquisition company Hennessy Capital Acquisition Corp. last December with a market valuation of $2.4 billion.

This year has been a bit bumpier for the company. The news on Monday comes less than a month after the company announced the resignations of its co-founder and CEO Ulrich Kranz and its general counsel Andrew Wolstan. Earlier this year, the company also lost its chief financial officer Paul Balciunas and its head of powertrain development.

Canoo’s skateboard architecture caught the eye of automaker Hyundai Motor Group, which last February said it would jointly develop an EV with Canoo based on the skateboard design. But during an investor call in March, Tony Aquila, who took over as company CEO following Kranz’s departure, said the deal was all but dead.

Ford, BMW lead Solid Power’s $130M Series B round

By Aria Alamalhodaei

A Solid Power manufacturing engineer holds two 20 ampere hour (Ah) all solid-state battery cells for the BMW Group and Ford Motor Company. The 20 ampere hour (Ah) all solid-state battery cells were produced on Solid Power’s Colorado-based pilot production line. Source: Solid Power.

Solid state battery systems have long been considered the next breakthrough in battery technology, with multiple startups vying to be the first to commercialization. Automakers have been some of the top investors in the technology, each of them seeking the edge that will make their electric vehicles safer, faster and with increased range.

Ford Motor Company and BMW Group have put their money on battery technology company Solid Power.

The Louisville, Colorado-based SSB developed said Monday its latest $130 million Series B funding round was led by Ford and BMW, the latest signal that the two OEMs see SSBs powering the future of transportation. Under the investment, Ford and BMW are equal equity owners and company representatives will join Solid Power’s board.

Solid Power received additional investment in the round from Volta Energy Technologies, the venture capital firm spun out of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.

Solid state batteries are so named because they lack a liquid electrolyte, as Mark Harris explained in an ExtraCrunch article earlier this year. Liquid electrolyte solutions are usually flammable and at risk of overheating, so SSBs are considered to be generally safer. The real value of SSBs versus their lithium-ion counterparts is the energy density. Solid Power says its batteries can provide as much as a 50% to 100% increase in energy density compared to rechargeable batteries. Theoretically, electric vehicles with more energy dense batteries can travel longer distances on a single charge.

This latest round of investment will help Solid Power boost its manufacturing to produce battery cells with the company’s highest ampere hour (Ah) output yet. Under separate joint development agreements with Ford and BMW, it will deliver to the OEMs 100 Ah cells for testing and vehicle integration from 2022.

Until this point, the company has been manufacturing cells with 2 Ah and 10 Ah output. “Hundreds” of 2 Ah battery cells were validated by Ford and BMW late last year, Solid Power said in a statement. Meanwhile, it is currently producing 20 Ah solid-state batteries on a pilot basis with standard lithium-ion equipment.

As opposed to the 20 Ah pilot-scale cells – which are composed of 22-layers at 9×20 cm – these 100 Ah cells will have a larger footprint and even more layers, Solid Power spokesman Will McKenna told TechCrunch. (‘Layers’ refers to the number of double-sided cathodes, McKenna explained – so the 20 Ah cell has 22 cathodes and 22 anodes, with an all-solid electrolyte separator in-between each, all in a single cell.)

Unlike Solid Power’s manufacturing, traditional lithium-ion batteries must undergo electrolyte filling and cycling in their production processes. Solid Power says these additional steps accounts for 5% and 30% of capital expenditure in a typical GWh-scale lithium-ion facility.

This isn’t the first time Solid Power has landed investments from the automakers. The company’s $20 million Series A in 2018 attracted capital from BMW and Ford, as well as Samsung, Hyundai, Volta and others. It’s part of a new wave of companies that have attracted the attention of OEMs. Other notable examples include Volkswagen-backed QuantumScape and General Motors, which has put its money on SES.

Ford is also independently researching advanced battery technologies and is planning on opening a $185 million R&D battery lab, the company said last week.

The Station: Lyft sells its self-driving unit, Uber makes a big product push and Revel jumps into ride-hailing

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.

Hi there, new and returning readers. This is The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.

We took a week off and now we’re back. Whoop. Let’s catch up on all things transportation.

My email inbox is always open. Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

JOCO, a new docked e-bike service in New York City, has launched and is already facing some headwinds. The service started with 300 e-bikes at 300 stations in private parking garages and plans to expan to about 1,000 e-bikes at 100 stations by June. That is, unless the NYC Department of Transportation has anything to say about it.

The city has exclusive rights with Citi Bike for docked bikeshares, which has somewhat stunted NYC’s shared micromobility growth. The city has sent JOCO a cease and desist letter. Assistant commissioner of the DOT, Michelle Craven, wrote:

It has been brought to our attention that [JOCO] commenced bicycle share operations in the City of New York. Please be advised that you do not have the authorization or permission, pursuant to a concession, franchise, permit, contract or otherwise, required for such operations. Additionally, the City of New York will actively enforce all laws and its police powers, including but not limited to those that protect its rights of way and ensure the safety and service provided by the city’s rights of way.

Accordingly, you are hereby directed immediately to cease and desist from any such bicycle share operations.

JOCO’s lawyers maintain that the company is doing nothing illegal because it parks the bikes on private property, not city streets, like Citi Bike. The city did not respond to requests for more information about whether or not the DOT’s power extends to private property.

A turning point for micromobility at scale?

Within the past month, there’s been the e-scooter pilot in the Bronx, JOCO’s e-bike launch and now Lime’s decision to compete with Revel for the e-moped market. These moves suggest that New York is finally opening the doors to electric micromobility.

Lime announced the release of 100 electric mopeds in Brooklyn, with planned expansions in Queens and lower Manhattan. A little competition will hopefully do the micromobility industry good, and that needs to happen if NYC is going to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Let’s not forget, making e-mobility the norm is absolutely essential to reducing carbon emissions in cities.

Another company is working on making it easier to scale up micromobility. Wunder Mobility, a company that sells software to shared mobility startups, has launched a new subsidiary called Wunder Capital, which will help micromobility operators finance fleet. On top of that, the company has partnered with consumer micromobility vehicle manufacturer Yadea to refit its e-mopeds for sharing purposes. German shared e-moped company emmy is the first to publicly take advantage of all three Wunder Mobility offerings — the software, the loans and the Yadeas.

Meanwhile in the U.K., Wind has reported success in its e-scooter trial in Nottingham. Since the launch of the trial last October, city residents have taken more than 240,000 rides. According to Wind’s city manager in Nottingham, more than 100 users in the city download the Wind app every day, and there are rates of five to six daily rides on each scooter.

Vaccine efforts

Superpedestrian has announced it will offer one million free rides on its LINK e-scooters to help citizens get to vaccination centers in communities in Italy and Spain. The company is giving away up to €10 million in free rides. The company said these rides will be made available in all European cities served by LINK scooters, including Rome, Madrid, Turin, Palermo, Málaga and Alcalá de Henares.

Ready to outdoor e-bikes

Retrospec, the brand that makes fun toys like paddle boards, skateboards and bikes is now adding electric bikes to the mix. There’s the Beaumont Rev City ($1,999.00) for swift city rides, the Beaumont Rev Step Through for an easy-to-mount swooped frame ($1,999.00) and the Jax Rev Folding e-bike ($1,399.99) with fat tires and good suspension so you can take it off road.

 — Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

The march of consolidation continued this week with ride-hailing company Lyft agreeing to sell its autonomous vehicle unit to Toyota’s Woven Planet Holdings subsidiary for $550 million. The agreement shakes out with Woven Planet forking over $200 million in cash upfront, and then paying off the remaining $350 million over a five-year period. About 300 people from Lyft Level 5 will be integrated into Woven Planet. The Level 5 team, which in early 2020 numbered more than 400 people in the U.S., Munich and London, will continue to operate out of its office in Palo Alto, California.

The transaction, which is expected to close in the third quarter of 2021, officially ends Lyft’s nearly four-year effort to develop its own self-driving system.

In the 24 hours or so after this deal was reported I received a number of texts and DMs from folks in the industry — investors and AV developers — all who said something like “wow, Lyft is giving this away,” or “this is a steal.” It reminded me of comments I received after Uber sold off its own self-driving subsidiary to Aurora.

Lyft is also making some structural organizational changes to reflect this renewed focus. The company said it will retain its team of engineers, product managers, data scientists and UX designers that have been working on the consumer experience of hailing and then riding in an autonomous vehicle, which will be headed up by Jody Kelman. This team, now known as Lyft Autonomous, will be folded into the company’s fleet division that manages more than 10,000 vehicles via its rental and express drive programs. Lyft Fleet, which was founded in 2019 and is led by Cal Lankton, is also the group spearheading the company’s transition to 100% electric vehicles on the network by 2030. The idea is to bring all of these efforts — shared, electric and self-driving — under one roof.

So, who is left in the AV developer industry? Not many. There are the big well-capitalized players like Aurora, Argo AI, Cruise, Motional, Waymo and Zoox, then a smattering of other startups and companies pursuing self-driving trucks, logistics and delivery. Who do you think is going to get gobbled up next?

On a side note: The Autonocast, that is the podcast I co-host with Alex Roy and Ed Niedermeyer, just taped an episode discussing the sale. We brought on Lyft co-founder and CEO John Zimmer to learn more on the why? and what’s next? Stay tuned for the episode to drop this week.

Other deals that got my attention …

EasyMile, a Toulouse, France-based autonomous vehicle company that builds shuttles for transporting both people and goods, closed a Series B of €55 million ($66 million) round led by Searchlight Capital Partners. McWin and NextStage AM along with previous investors rail industry heavyweight Alstom, Bpifrance and auto giant Continental also participated.

Hello, the Ant Financial-backed Chinese ebike-sharing company, filed for an IPO. The company, which has raised more than $3 billion, plans to list on the Nasdaq. A few interesting items from its S-1, the company reported $926.3 million in revenue in 2020, a 25% increase from the previous year. Hello is not yet profitable, however. The company reported a net loss of $173.7 million in 2020.

IRP Systems, a maker of powertrains for electric vehicles, raised a $31 million Series C funding round, bringing its total funding to $57 million. The financing was led by Clal Insurance and Altshuler Shaham, which are Israeli institutional investors. Also participating was Samsung Ventures, Renault-Nissan importer Carasso Motors and Shlomo Group, as well as existing investors such as Entrée Capital, Fosun RZ Capital and JAL Ventures.

Manna, the Irish drone startup planning to launch delivery services in the UK and US, raised $25 million Draper Esprit, Team Europe, the venture capital firm of Delivery Hero founder Lukasz Gadowski, and DST Global. The founders of online payments group Stripe also backed the group as private investors, the Financial Times reported.

Plus, the self-driving truck startup, is in talks to merge with special purpose acquisition company Hennessy Capital Investment Corp. V, Bloomberg reported citing people familiar with the matter. The deal would reportedly put the valuation of Plus at more than $3 billion.

Zomato, the Indian food delivery startup, filed for an initial public offering. The company, which counts Info Edge and Ant Group among its largest investors, plans to raise $1.1 billion from the IPO (about $1 billion from issuing new shares), according to the filing. The startup intends to list on Indian stock exchanges NSE and BSE. Zomato has been on a tear and now operating in 24 markets. It’s also raised more than $2.2 billion (according to research firm Tracxn), and was valued at $5.4 billion in its most recent fundraise round. The company said it may consider raising an additional $200 million ahead of public listing.

Policy corner!

the-station-delivery

It was a busy week in Washington. First up: Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) introduced legislation that calls for earmarking more than $7 billion each year in grants and rebates to scale up America’s electric vehicle charging network and accelerate domestic manufacturing of EVs. Rep. Rush introduced a similar bill last year that didn’t end up going anywhere, but with President Biden’s recent push for big spending on green infrastructure, we may see a different result this time around.

Meanwhile, a Senate Democrat sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency calling for stricter policies on greenhouse gas emissions that exceed those outlined in Biden’s climate plan. The letter, which was obtained by the Associated Press, says the EPA should introduce incrementally tighter fuel economy standards until 2035, at which point there would be a ban on the sale of new gas-powered cars.

“If the U.S. does not establish a robust policy that leads to zero emission vehicle deployment, combined with appropriate incentives, we will be at risk of losing our automotive jobs and industry leadership to other nations, as well as enduring unnecessary public health impacts from pollution,” the AP reported Carper wrote in the letter.

Notice Carper’s invocation of jobs? He’s not the only one that’s arguing for (or against) a speedy transition on the basis of how it will affect workers. At a recent hearing at the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation, a representative from the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association told lawmakers that a fully electric vehicle fleet could put at risk up to 30% of the auto supplier industry’s workforce.

Biden, of course, has said that the shift to EVs will not cost Americans jobs — but that’s hard to see how that’s the case without his plan passing. Bosch executives told me recently that only one employee is needed to manufacture an electric powertrain system, versus 10 for a diesel powertrain. Although Bosch is referring to operations in Europe, it’s an instructive example.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery

Welp, lots happened. Shall we attempt to squeeze it all in? OK, let’s proceed.

Electric vehicles

GM revealed a four-part plan meant to handle all the steps of charging an electric vehicle, including finding a public charger and paying for the power, as the automaker seeks ways to attract customers to the 30 EVs it plans to launch by 2025. The Ultium Charge 360 plan — named after the underlying electric vehicle platform and batteries of its upcoming EVs — aims to handle the access, payment and customer service components of charging an electric vehicle at home and on the road. Importantly, GM has signed agreements with seven third-party charging network providers, including Blink Charging, ChargePoint, EV Connect, EVgo, FLO, Greenlots and SemaConnect.

This is more than just locking up partnerships though. If GM hopes to convert drivers to EVs it has to think about how to integrate real-time information about EV charging stations into the vehicle’s infotainment system. It appears the company is making an attempt at that through. Using their GM vehicle brand mobile app, EV drivers will be able to see real-time information, including location and whether a charger is being used, from nearly 60,000 charging plugs throughout the U.S. and Canada, the company said.

Tesla reported first quarter earnings. Tesla generated revenues of $10.389 billion, gross profit of $2.215 billion and net income of $438 million. The upshot: regulatory credits and bitcoin combined with volume growth and some gross margin improvement buoyed results and helped offset additional supply chain costs, R&D investments, the costs associated with changing over Model S and Model X and lower ASP (average selling price). Revenue jumped some 75% from the same period last year — certainly notable growth. Regulatory credits brought in $518 million and bitcoin made a $101 million “positive impact” to the company’s profitability in the first quarter, according to Tesla CFO and “master of coin” Zach Kirkhorn.

Tesla invested $1.5 billion in bitcoin this quarter and then trimmed its position by 10%. The company believes in the longevity of bitcoin, despite its volatility, Kirkhorn said during an earnings call. He noted that Tesla turned to bitcoin as a place to store cash and still access it immediately, all while providing a better return on investment than more traditional central bank-backed safe havens. Of course, the higher yields provided by the volatile digital currency comes with higher risk.

One more piece of Tesla news … CEO Elon Musk wants to turn every home into a distributed power plant that would generate, store and even deliver energy back into the electricity grid, all using the company’s products, according to comments he made during last week’s earnings call.

While the company has been selling solar and energy storage products for years, a new company policy will only sell customers solar coupled with the energy storage products. In short: it’s a package deal only. Musk’s pitch is that the grid would need more power lines, more power plants and larger substations to fully decarbonize using renewables plus storage. Distributed residential systems — of course using Tesla products — would provide a better path, in Musk’s view.

Volkswagen’s “Voltswagen” stunt is being investigated by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, according to Der Spiegel.

Future of flight

Luminar Technologies said it is expanding its lidar business beyond automotive and into aviation through a partnership with Airbus. Until now, Luminar has exclusively focused on applying its light detection and ranging radar to automated vehicles on the ground — not in the skies. The partnership won’t immediately bring lidar into commercial aircraft. Unlike Luminar’s deal with Daimler, Mobileye and Volvo this is not a production contract, although the aim is that it will lead to one. Instead, the partnership is with Airbus’ UpNext subsidiary, which is focused on developing and eventually applying new technological breakthroughs to aviation.

The effort will be folded into Airbus Flightlab, an ecosystem that offers access to flight test platforms across Airbus’ business lines, including commercial aircraft, helicopters, defense and space. Luminar and Airbus will develop and test how lidar can be used to enhance sensing, perception and system-level capabilities to ultimately enable safe, autonomous flight, the companies said.

Wingcopter launched a new autonomous delivery drone designed to remove a technical bottleneck hindering the growth of drone transport services. The Wingcopter 198 is capable of making three separate deliveries per flight, the company said. Wingcopter has couched this multi-stop capability as a critical feature that will allow it to grow a cost-efficient — and hopefully profitable — drone-delivery-as-a-service business.

In-car tech

Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess told Handelsblatt newspaper that the company plans to design and develop its own chips and software for autonomous vehicles. To be clear, VW doesn’t plan to manufacture these chips. Instead, it wants to own the patents and intends to have its software division Cariad develop the chips.

Sharing

Revel, the company that made its name by planting dockless blue e-mopeds in Brooklyn and then expanded swiftly this year into monthly subscription e-bikes and a “Superhub” EV charging station, is now rounding out its strategy to own electrification in cities. Last week, Revel announced it will be launching an all-Tesla, ridehail service in Manhattan below 42nd Street. To add a bit of drama to the launch, NYC’s Taxi & Limousine Commission has come out with a statement saying the company has no right to operate a for-hire taxi service. The TLC has issued a cap on for-hire vehicles because supply exceeds demand, according to TLC Commissioner Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk. Revel says its actions are perfectly legal because its service falls under the electric battery exemption, which Jarmoszuk says “exists to encourage already-licensed cars to go green, not to flood an already saturated market or to disenfranchise the Yellow Taxi sector in Manhattan.”

Stellantis has a short-term vehicle service called Free2Move that is expanding into the United States. The car on-demand subscription service will first launch in Los Angeles before opening in five other American markets by the end of the year. The service has been deployed in several European countries since 2019.

Uber is launching more than a half-dozen new features, including one that will let users book vaccine appointments at Walgreens and reserve a ride to get their jab, as the company homes in on a business model that will finally deliver profitability. The features fall under what Uber is describing as its “go get” strategy and is meant to mark a return to more “normal” business operations following 14 months of shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The numerous features that include vaccine booking, a valet service that will drop off a rental car, reserved rides at airports that offer up to an hour of wait time and options to pick up food during a ride-hailed route are all centered around Uber’s core services of delivery and ride hailing. Side note: Earnings alert! We will be listening in May 5.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

The TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event, which is scheduled for June 9,  will be virtual again — as I have mentioned before. We released a “mostly” final agenda. There may be a surprise or two more.

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

Other guests to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, includes Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose SPAC merged with Joby, investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, as well as Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. We also plan to bring together community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig to talk about equity, accessibility and shared mobility in cities.

Geothermal technology has enormous potential to power the planet and Fervo wants to tap it

By Jonathan Shieber

Tapping the geothermal energy stored beneath the Earth’s surface as a way to generate renewable power is one of the new visions for the future that’s captured the attention of environmentalists and oil and gas engineers alike.

That’s because it’s not only a way to generate power that doesn’t rely on greenhouse gas emitting hydrocarbons, but because it uses the same skillsets and expertise that the oil and gas industry has been honing and refining for years.

At least that’s what drew the former completion engineer (it’s not what it sounds like) Tim Latimer to the industry and to launch Fervo Energy, the Houston-based geothermal tech developer that’s picked up funding from none other than Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures (that fund… is so busy) and former eBay executive, Jeff Skoll’s Capricorn Investment Group.

With the new $28 million cash in hand Fervo’s planning on ramping up its projects which Latimer said would “bring on hundreds of megawatts of power in the next few years.”

Latimer got his first exposure to the environmental impact of power generation as a kid growing up in a small town outside of Waco, Texas near the Sandy Creek coal power plant, one of the last coal-powered plants to be built in the U.S.

Like many Texas kids, Latimer came from an oil family and got his first jobs in the oil and gas industry before realizing that the world was going to be switching to renewables and the oil industry — along with the friends and family he knew — could be left high and dry.

It’s one reason why he started working on Fervo, the entrepreneur said.

“What’s most important, from my perspective, since I started my career in the oil and gas industry is providing folks that are part of the energy transition on the fossil fuel side to work in the clean energy future,” Latimer said. “I’ve been able to go in and hire contractors and support folks that have been out of work or challenged because of the oil price crash… And I put them to work on our rigs.”

Fervo Energy chief executive, Tim Latimer, pictured in a hardhat at one of the company’s development sites. Image Credits: Fervo Energy

When the Biden administration talks about finding jobs for employees in the hydrocarbon industry as part of the energy transition, this is exactly what they’re talking about.

And geothermal power is no longer as constrained by geography, so there’s a lot of abundant resources to tap and the potential for high paying jobs in areas that are already dependent on geological services work, Latimer said (late last year, Vox published a good overview of the history and opportunity presented by the technology).

“A large percentage of the world’s population actually lives next to good geothermal resources,” Latimer said. “25 countries today that have geothermal installed and producing and another 25 where geothermal is going to grow.” 

Geothermal power production actually has a long history in the Western U.S. and in parts of Africa where naturally occurring geysers and steam jets pouring from the earth have been obvious indicators of good geothermal resources, Latimer said.

Fervo’s technology unlocks a new class of geothermal resource that is ready for large-scale deployment. Fervo’s geothermal systems use novel techniques, including horizontal drilling, distributed fiber optic sensing, and advanced computational modelling, to deliver more repeatable and cost effective geothermal electricity,” Latimer wrote in an email. “Fervo’s technology combines with the latest advancements in Organic Rankine Cycle generation systems to deliver flexible, 24/7 carbon-free electricity.”

Initially developed with a grant from the TomKat Center at Stanford University and a fellowship funded by Activate.org at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Cyclotron Road division, Fervo has gone on to score funding from the DOE’s Geothermal Technology Office and ARPA-E to continue work with partners like Schlumberger, Rice University and the Berkeley Lab.

The combination of new and old technology is opening vast geographies to the company to potentially develop new projects.

Other companies are also looking to tap geothermal power to drive a renewable power generation development business. Those are startups like Eavor, which has the backing of energy majors like bp Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, Temasek, BDC Capital, Eversource and Vickers Venture Partners; and other players including GreenFire Energy, and Sage Geosystems.

Demand for geothermal projects is skyrocketing, opening up big markets for startups that can nail the cost issue for geothermal development. As Latimer noted, from 2016 to 2019 there was only one major geothermal contract, but in 2020 there were ten new major power purchase agreements signed by the industry. 

For all of these projects, cost remains a factor. Contracts that are being signed for geothermal that are in the $65 to $75 per megawatt range, according to Latimer. By comparison, solar plants are now coming in somewhere between $35 and $55 per megawatt, as The Verge reported last year

But Latimer said the stability and predictability of geothermal power made the cost differential palatable for utilities and businesses that need the assurance of uninterruptible power supplies. As a current Houston resident, the issue is something that Latimer has an intimate experience with from this year’s winter freeze, which left him without power for five days.

Indeed, geothermal’s ability to provide always-on clean power makes it an incredibly attractive option. In a recent Department of Energy study, geothermal could meet as much as 16% of the U.S. electricity demand, and other estimates put geothermal’s contribution at nearly 20% of a fully decarbonized grid.

“We’ve long been believers in geothermal energy but have waited until we’ve seen the right technology and team to drive innovation in the sector,” said Ion Yadigaroglu of Capricorn Investment Group, in a statement. “Fervo’s technology capabilities and the partnerships they’ve created with leading research organizations make them the clear leader in the new wave of geothermal.”

Fervo Energy drilling site. Image Credits: Fervo Energy

Brazil’s Loft adds $100M to its accounts, $700M to its valuation in a single month

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Nearly exactly one month ago, digital real estate platform Loft announced it had closed on $425 million in Series D funding led by New York-based D1 Capital Partners. The round included participation from a mix of new and existing investors such as DST, Tiger Global, Andreessen Horowitz, Fifth Wall and QED, among many others.

At the time, Loft was valued at $2.2 billion, a huge jump from its being just near unicorn territory in January 2020. The round marked one of the largest ever for a Brazilian startup.

Now, today, São Paulo-based Loft has announced an extension to that round with the closing of $100 million in additional funding that values the company at $2.9 billion. This means that the 3-year-old startup has increased its valuation by $700 million in a matter of weeks.

Baillie Gifford led the Series D-2 round, which also included participation from Tarsadia, Flight Deck, Caffeinated and others. Individuals also put money in the extension, including the founders of Better (Vishal Garg), GoPuff, Instacart, Kavak and Sweetgreen.

Loft has seen great success in its efforts to serve as a “one-stop shop” for Brazilians to help them manage the home buying and selling process. 

Image courtesy of Loft

In 2020, Loft saw the number of listings on its site increase “10 to 15 times,” according to co-founder and co-CEO Mate Pencz. Today, the company actively maintains more than 13,000 property listings in approximately 130 regions across São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, partnering with more than 30,000 brokers. Not only are more people open to transacting digitally, more people are looking to buy versus rent in the country.

“We did more than 6x YoY growth with many thousands of transactions over the course of 2020,” Pencz told TechCrunch at the time of the company’s last raise. “We’re now growing into the many tens of thousands, and soon hundreds of thousands, of active listings.”

The decision to raise more capital so soon was due to a variety of factors. For one, Loft has received “overwhelming investor interest” even after “a very, very oversubscribed main round,” Pencz said.

“We have seen a continued acceleration in our market share growth, especially in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the two markets we currently operate in,” he added. “We saw an opportunity to grow even faster with additional capital.”

Pencz also pointed out that Baillie Gifford has relatively large minimum check size requirements, which led to the extension being conducted at a higher price and increased the total round size “by quite a bit to be able to accommodate them.”

While the company was less forthcoming about its financials as of late, it told me last year that it had notched “over $150 million in annualized revenues in its first full year of operation” via more than 1,000 transactions.

The company’s revenues and GMV (gross merchandise value) “increased significantly” in 2020, according to Pencz, who declined to provide more specifics. He did say those figures are “multiples higher from where they were,” and that Loft has “a very clear horizon to profitability.”

Pencz and Florian Hagenbuch founded Loft in early 2018 and today serve as its co-CEOs. The aim of the platform, in the company’s words, is “bringing Latin American real estate into the e-commerce age by developing online alternatives to analogue legacy processes and leveraging data to create transparency in highly opaque markets.” The U.S. real estate tech company with the closest model to Loft’s is probably Zillow, according to Pencz.

In the United States, prospective buyers and sellers have the benefit of MLSs, which in the words of the National Association of Realtors, are private databases that are created, maintained and paid for by real estate professionals to help their clients buy and sell property. Loft itself spent years and many dollars in creating its own such databases for the Brazilian market. Besides helping people buy and sell homes, it offers services around insurance, renovations and rentals.

In 2020, Loft also entered the mortgage business by acquiring one of the largest mortgage brokerage businesses in Brazil. The startup now ranks among the top-three mortgage originators in the country, according to Pencz. When it comes to helping people apply for mortgages, he likened Loft to U.S.-based Better.com.

This latest financing brings Loft’s total funding raised to an impressive $800 million. Other backers include Brazil’s Canary and a group of high-profile angel investors such as Max Levchin of Affirm and PayPal, Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and David Vélez, CEO and founder of Brazilian fintech Nubank. In addition, Loft has also raised more than $100 million in debt financing through a series of publicly listed real estate funds.

Loft plans to use its new capital in part to expand across Brazil and eventually in Latin America and beyond. The company is also planning to explore more M&A opportunities.

Ford takes aim at Tesla, GM with its new hands-free driving system

By Kirsten Korosec

Ford will debut its new hands-free driving feature on the 2021 F-150 pickup truck and certain 2021 Mustang Mach-E models through a software update later this year, technology that the automaker developed to rival similar systems from Tesla and GM.

That hands-free capability — which uses camera, radar sensors and software to provide a combination of adaptive cruise control, lane centering and speed sign recognition — has undergone some 500,000 miles of development testing, Ford emphasized in its announcement and tweet from its CEO Jim Farley in a not-so-subtle dig at Tesla’s approach of rolling out beta software to customers. The system also has an in-cabin camera that monitors eye gaze and head position to help ensure the driver’s eyes remain on the road.

The hands-free system will be available on vehicles equipped with Ford’s Co-Pilot360 Technology and will only work on certain sections of divided highways that Ford. The system, which will be rolled out via software updates later this year, will initially be available on more than 100,000 miles of highways in North America.

BlueCruise! We tested it in the real world, so our customers don’t have to. pic.twitter.com/dgqVkWH31r

— Jim Farley (@jimfarley98) April 14, 2021

The system does comes with a price. BlueCruise software, which includes a three-year service period, will cost $600. The price of upgrading the hardware will depend on the vehicle. For instance, on F-150 owners will have to plunk down another $995 for the hardware, while owners of the “select” Mustang Mach-E model variant will have to pay an additional $2,600. BlueCruise comes standard on CA Route 1, Premium and First Edition variants of the Mustang Mach-E.

While nearly every automaker offers some driver assistance features, Ford is clearly aiming to compete with or capture market share away from GM and Tesla — the two companies with the best-known and capable ADAS. Convincing customers that its system is worth the expense will be critical to meeting its internal target of selling more than 100,000 vehicles equipped with BlueCruise in the first year, based on company sales and take-rate projections.

GM Super Cruise uses a combination of lidar map data, high-precision GPS, cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system, which monitors the person behind the wheel to ensure they’re paying attention. Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system, users of Super Cruise do not need to have their hands on the wheel. However, their eyes must remain directed straight ahead.

Tesla’s Autopilot feature also combines sensors like cameras and radar, computing power and software. Autopilot, which comes standard in all new Tesla vehicles, will steer, accelerate and brake automatically within its lane. Tesla uses a torque sensor in the steering wheel to determine if drivers are paying attention, although many owners have found and publicly documented hacks so they can keep their hands off the wheels and eyes off the road ahead. Tesla charges $10,000 for its upgrade to FSD (its own internal branding meant to stand for full self-driving). FSD is not an autonomous system. It does provide a number of more capable driver assist functions including automatic lane changes, the ability to recognize and act upon traffic lights and stop signs and a navigation feature that will suggest lane changes on route and automatically steer the vehicle toward highway interchanges and exits.

Ford said that its system communicates with drivers in different ways, including displaying text and blue lighting cues in the instrument cluster, which it says is effective even for those with color blindness.

The so-called BlueCruise hands-free technology will be offered in other Ford vehicle models in the future, the company said. Drivers who opt for the technology will continue to receive software updates as it is improved. Ford said future improvements will include a feature that will let the vehicle change lanes by tapping the turn signal indicator as well as one that will predict and then adjust vehicle speed for roundabouts and curves. The company also said it plans to offer regular mapping updates.

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

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.

Hi there, new and returning readers. This is The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.

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

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

The upshot: automakers are starting to make moves.

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

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

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

Btw, my email inbox is always open. Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

 Micromobbin’

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

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


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

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

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

New ride swag releases

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

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

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

Post-Rona public transit push

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

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

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

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

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

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

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

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

Other deals that got my attention this week …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery

Some interesting items this week.

Ride-hailing

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

Autonomous vehicles

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

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

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

Electric vehicles

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

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

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

eVTOLs

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

In-car tech

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

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

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM idles more North American plants as chip shortage drags on

By Kirsten Korosec

General Motors is idling more plants and extending shutdowns at other facilities in North America due to a continued shortage of semiconductor chips that are used to control myriad operations in vehicles, including the infotainment, power steering and brake systems.

In an update Thursday, GM indicated that eight assembly plants are affected by the temporary closures. CNBC was the first to report on the temporary plant closures. GM confirmed the shutdowns to TechCrunch and added that it plans to restart production next week at its Wentzville Assembly plant in Missouri.

“GM continues to leverage every available semiconductor to build and ship our most popular and in-demand products, including full-size trucks and SUVs for our customers,” a spokesperson wrote in an email. “Our intent is to make up as much production lost at these plants as possible.”

As global chip shortage has dragged on, automakers including GM and Ford have had to idle plants and shuffle resources to the production of higher margin vehicles like SUVs. GM told TechCrunch that it has not taken downtime or reduced shifts at any of its full-size truck or full-size SUV plants due to the shortage. It’s also prompted automakers to build vehicles without specific parts. For instance, GM said last month that certain pickup trucks would be produced without a fuel management module, a device that will prevent these vehicles from achieving top fuel economy performance.

Automakers have also issued guidance on how the shortage will affect financial results in 2021. Ford has said that if the semiconductor shortage scenario is extended through the first half of 2021, the shortage could lower its earnings between $1 billion and $2.5 billion, net of cost recoveries and some production make-up in the second half of the year.

GM said in February that the global shortage of semiconductors will have a short-term impact on its production, earnings and cash flow in 2021.

GM’s Spring Hill Assembly in Tennessee, which builds the Cadillac XT5, Cadillac XT6 and GMC Acadia, will shut down for two weeks beginning April 12. GM is temporarily halting production of the Chevrolet Blazer at the Ramos Assembly in Mexico and Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave at the Lansing Delta Township factory during the week of April 19.

GM also extended downtime at Lansing Grand River Assembly through the week of April 26. This plant, which builds the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave, has been down since March 15.

The automaker is extending the shutdown at its CAMI Assembly plant in Canada and the Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas, which is where the Chevrolet Malibu and Cadillac XT4 are extended through May 10. Both CAMI and Fairfax have been down since the week of February 8, GM said.

GM’s Bupyeong 2 Assembly in Korea has been operating at half capacity since February 8, and its Gravataí plant in Brazil is taking downtime for the months of April and May.

Education nonprofit Edraak ignored a student data leak for two months

By Zack Whittaker

Edraak, an online education nonprofit, exposed the private information of thousands of students after uploading student data to an unprotected cloud storage server, apparently by mistake.

The non-profit, founded by Jordan’s Queen Rania and headquartered in the kingdom’s capital, was set up in 2013 to promote education across the Arab region. The organization works with several partners, including the British Council and edX, a consortium set up by Harvard, Stanford, and MIT.

In February, researchers at U.K. cybersecurity firm TurgenSec found one of Edraak’s cloud storage servers containing at least tens of thousands of students’ data, including spreadsheets with students’ names, email addresses, gender, birth year, country of nationality, and some class grades.

TurgenSec, which runs Breaches.UK, a site for disclosing security incidents, alerted Edraak to the security lapse. A week later, their email was acknowledged by the organization but the data continued to spill. Emails seen by TechCrunch show the researchers tried to alert others who worked at the organization via LinkedIn requests, and its partners, including the British Council.

Two months passed and the server remained open. At its request, TechCrunch contacted Edraak, which closed the servers a few hours later.

In an email this week, Edraak chief executive Sherif Halawa told TechCrunch that the storage server was “meant to be publicly accessible, and to host public course content assets, such as course images, videos, and educational files,” but that “student data is never intentionally placed in this bucket.”

“Due to an unfortunate configuration bug, however, some academic data and student information exports were accidentally placed in the bucket,” Halawa confirmed.

“Unfortunately our initial scan did not locate the misplaced data that made it there accidentally. We attributed the elements in the Breaches.UK email to regular student uploads. We have now located these misplaced reports today and addressed the issue,” Halawa said.

The server is now closed off to public access.

It’s not clear why Edraak ignored the researchers’ initial email, which disclosed the location of the unprotected server, or why the organization’s response was not to ask for more details. When reached, British Council spokesperson Catherine Bowden said the organization received an email from TurgenSec but mistook it for a phishing email.

Edraak’s CEO Halawa said that the organization had already begun notifying affected students about the incident, and put out a blog post on Thursday.

Last year, TurgenSec found an unencrypted customer database belonging to U.K. internet provider Virgin Media that was left online by mistake, containing records linking some customers to adult and explicit websites.

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GM to build an electric Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck with more than 400 miles of range

By Kirsten Korosec

GM is adding an electric Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck to its lineup, as the automaker pushes to deliver more than 1 million electric vehicles globally by 2025.

GM President Mark Reuss said Tuesday that the Chevrolet Silverado electric full-size pickup will be based on the automaker’s Ultium battery platform and will have an estimated range of more than 400 miles on a full charge. It should be noted this is GM’s forecast not an official EPA figure.

GM is positioning the full-sized pickup for both consumer and commercial markets. Reuss said that retail and fleet versions of the Silverado electric pickup will be offered with a variety of options and configurations.

“I’m particularly excited about its potential in the fleet and commercial space, a crucial part of the EV market, especially initially,” Reuss said during a presentation at the company’s Factory ZERO assembly plant in Detroit and Hamtramck.

The electric Silverado will go head to head with Ford’s upcoming electric F-150. And while new EV entrant Rivian is not going after the commercial market, its electric RT1 pickup will also provide competition in the space. Rivian is expected to begin deliveries of its electric RT1 pickup truck this summer.

The news also follows a string of announcements over the past 18 months, including the GM’s Ultium battery platform and the launch of BrightDrop, an a new business unit to offer commercial customers — starting with FedEx — an ecosystem of electric and connected products. BrightDrop will begin with two main products: an electric van called the EV600 with an estimate range of 250 miles and a pod-like electric pallet dubbed EP1.

Last year, GM committed more than $27 billion to EV and AV product development, including $7 billion in 2021 and plans to launch 30 EVs globally by the end of 2025, with more than two-thirds available in North America.

Reuss said that the company will build the Silverado electric pickup truck at the company’s Factory ZERO assembly plant in Detroit and Hamtramck, Michigan. He confirmed that the GMC Hummer EV SUV, which was unveiled over the weekend, will also be built at the factory. GM renamed its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant “Factory ZERO” in October 2020 and later said it would invest $2.2 billion in the factory to produce a variety of all-electric trucks and SUVs.

The facility, which is is undergoing a complete renovation and retooling and has expanded to more than 4.5 million square feet, will also produce the GMC Hummer EV pickup and the Cruise Origin, a purpose-built, all-electric and shared self-driving vehicle. Production of the GMC Hummer EV pickup will begin later this year.

Stanford and Duke join certification program to boost diversity education with investors and the C-suite

By Jonathan Shieber

A partnership between the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Flagler Entrepreneurship Center, the Opportunity Hub and 100 Black Angels and Allies Fund, set up to improve representation and support of diverse founders in the tech industry, is getting more heavy-hitting partners from Duke and Stanford.

As part of the partnership, faculty affiliated with Stanford and Duke will join educators to staff the DEIS Practicum Certificate and Black Technology Ecosystem Investment Certificate programs, which, respectively, try to address ways in which management can engage in diversity and inclusion in a systemic way beyond simply human resources hires and equity in compensation and ways in which more Black investors can become involved in backing startups.  

“In order to address issues like DEI at a systemic organizational level and to address the pervasive issues causing the wealth gap, we need to work together to help make this kind of education more readily available,” said Entrepreneurship Center Executive Director Vickie Gibbs, in a statement. “Together, we are taking action and making progress toward creating a more equitable society and entrepreneurial community.”

The addition of affiliated faculty from the Stanford Technology Ventures program and Duke University does more than just further validate the program, according to Rodney Sampson, the executive chairman and chief executive of OHUB and co-founder and general partner of 199 Black Allies & Angels fund. For Sampson, who also serves as a visiting professor at the University of North Carolina and Duke, the addition of the two schools will mean more exposure among the two universities’ alumni

“It also expands the reach of these solutions and insights into the alumni and entrepreneurial communities of these two amazing universities,” said Sampson in a statement. 

The framework that Sampson has developed involves a multi-pronged approach for employers that includes: a review of the extent to which diversity, equity, and inclusion is operationalized in corporate boards and governance; in assessments of hiring, promotion and human resources practices; in procurement and vendor services; in innovation and product development; in resources on going to market to reach diverse audiences; in investments into Black and Latino communities, and in monitoring the impact of the business’ operations on the community.

The framework was recently cited in a report from no less auspicious an organization than the Brookings Institution in a paper authored by Amy Liu and Reniya Dinkins.

“When chief executives demonstrate their own work to dismantle bias and create a culture of true belonging, it provides a level of trust and credibility needed for these firms and leaders to collaborate with others in bringing about broader progress and sustained prosperity in their home regions,” the authors wrote. 

For Stanford University in particular, the opportunity to embrace diversity and education training comes as the university tries to rehabilitate an image tarnished after its rush to embrace policies crafted by the former White House administration that called for universities to limit diversity training

“For too long, diversity, equity and inclusion have been an afterthought in entrepreneurship and innovation. I am grateful to be collaborating with thoughtful, action-oriented colleagues to address systemic racism. Together, we’ll be able to create important new network connections between our organizations and to develop learning insights that can be shared with educators and organizations around the world, ” added Tom Byers, Keohane Distinguished Visiting Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University and STVP Faculty Director.

 

Put your city on the TC map — TechCrunch’s European Cities Survey 2021

By Mike Butcher

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey European founders and investors in cities outside the larger European capitals.

Over the next few weeks, we will ask entrepreneurs in these cities to talk about their ecosystems, in their own words.

This is your chance to put your city on the Techcrunch Map!

This is the follow-up to the huge survey of investors (see also below) we’ve done over the last 6 or more months, largely in capital cities.

These formed part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing regularly for ExtraCrunch, our subscription service which unpacks key issues for startups and investors.

In the first wave of surveys (as you can see below) the cities we wrote about were largely capitals.

This time, we will be surveying founders and investors in Europe’s other cities to capture how European hubs are growing, from the perspective of the people on the ground.

We’d like to know how your city’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and generally how your city will evolve.

We leave submissions mostly un-edited, and generally looking for at least one or two paragraphs in answers to the questions.

So if you are tech startup founder or investor in one of these cities please fill out our survey form here.

Austria: Graz, Linz
Belgium: Antwerp
Croatia: Zagreb, Osjek
Czech Republic: Brno, Ostrava, Plzen
England: Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester
Estonia: Tartu
France: Toulouse, Lyon, Lille
Germany: Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Bielefeld, Frankfurt
Greece: Thessaloniki
Ireland: Cork
Israel: Jerusalem
Italy: Trieste, Bologna, Turin, Florence, Milan
Netherlands: Delft, Eindhoven, Rotterdam, Utrecht
Northern Ireland: Belfast, Derry
Poland: Gdańsk, Wroclaw, Krakow, Poznan
Portugal: Porto, Braga
Romania: Cluj, Lasi, Timisoara, Oradea, Brasov
Scotland: Edinburgh, Glasgow
Spain: Valencia
Sweden: Malmo
Switzerland: Geneva, Lausanne

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com and/or reply on Twitter to @mikebutcher

Here are the cities that previously participated in The Great TechCrunch Survey of Europe’s VCs:

Amsterdam/Netherlands

Athens/Greece

Berlin/Germany

Brussels/Belgium

Bucharest/Romania

Copenhagen/Denmark

Dublin/Ireland

Helsinki/Finland

Lisbon/Portugal

London/UK

Madrid & Barcelona/Spain (Part 1 & Part 2)

Oslo/Norway

Paris/France

Prague/Czech Republic

Rome, Milan/Italy

Stockholm/Sweden

Tel Aviv/Israel

Vienna/Austria

Warsaw/Poland (Part 1 & Part 2)

Zurich/Switzerland

Planting seed investments on tech’s frontiers nets KdT Ventures $50 million for its latest fund

By Jonathan Shieber

Like other venture investors over the past year, Cain McClary, co-founder of the investment firm KdT Ventures, recently made the jump to Austin. But unlike the rest of them, he was coming from Black Mountain, NC.

McClary had spent the better part of the last three years with his co-founder Mack Healy building out a portfolio that would be the envy of almost any investor looking at financing startups whose businesses depend on innovations at the borders of current technological achievement.

Since 2017, when the firm closed on the first $3.5 million of what ended up being a $15 million fund (they had targeted $30 million), McClary and Healy managed to find their way onto the cap table of businesses like the green chemicals manufacturer, Solugen; health diagnostics technology developer, PathAI; the Nigerian genetic dataset developer, 54Gene; the novel biomaterials developer, Checkerspot; and the genetics-focused therapy company, Dyno Therapeutics. 

That portfolio — and the subsequent top decile performance that Cambridge Associates has said comes with it — has allowed McClary and Healy to close on an oversubscribed $50 million new fund to invest in promising startup companies.

KdT co-founders Cain McClary and Mack Healy. Image Credit: KdT Ventures

Hailing from a small Tennessee town outside of Leipers Fork (itself a small Tennessee town) McClary studied medicine at Tulane and business at Stanford where he linked up with Healy through a mutual friend.

Healy, who had done stints throughout big Bay Area startups like Airbnb, Databricks, and Facebook brought the software expertise (and some capital to stake the firm) while McClary provided the life sciences know-how.

Together the two men set out to hang their investment shingle at the intersection of software and life sciences that was proving to be fertile ground for new business creation. Each company in the firm’s portfolio depends on both the advances in understanding how to code computers and living cells.

McClary had left California for personal reasons when he launched the fund in 2017 and in 2020 relocated to Austin for professional ones. Healy had already set up shop in the city and it was easier, McClary said to fly out to San Francisco to look for companies from the Austin airport than it was from Ashville.

Also, both men were placing big bets on the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas to become the breeding ground for the type of entrepreneurs that the firm is looking to back.

Mack was there… the Dell Medical School and we think it’s going to be produce the types of entrpereneurs that we want to support. Houston has a med system. I firmly believe that texas has a place at the table in the future 

“The way that we define it is that we like to invest in the physical layer of the world,” said McClary. “That includes not only medicine, but chemicals and agriculture. All of that is driven by some of the things that we have this sourcecode for the physical world.”

Mapping the unmapped corners of the frontier tech startup world means that the firm not only has a presence in Austin, but has hired principals to scour Houston and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina for hot deals.

That doesn’t mean the firm is forsaking California though. One of the most recent deals in the KdT portfolio is Andes Ag, an Emeryville, Calif.-based startup that’s applying yield-boosting microbes directly to seeds in an effort to improve crop performance for farmers.

“The KdT team speaks the language of science, making them an outlier in this area of venture investing,” said JD Montgomery of Canterbury Consulting, a limited partner in KdT’s first and second fund. “They are passionate about building the science companies of the future that will tackle some of the significant challenges our world faces in the next decade and beyond.”

❌