The Colombian trucking and logistics services startup Liftit has raised $22.5 million in a new round of funding to capitalize on its newfound traction in markets across Latin America as responses to the COVID-19 epidemic bring changes to the industry across the region.
“We’re focusing on the five countries that we’re already in,” says Liftit chief executive Brian York.
The company recently hired a head of operations for Mexico and a head of operations for Brazil as it looks to double down on its success in both regions.
Funding for the round was led by Cambridge Capital and included investments from the new Latin American focused firm H20 Capital along with AC Ventures, the venture arm of the 2nd largest coca-cola bottler in Latam; 10x Capital, Banyan Tree Ventures, Alpha4 Ventures, the lingerie brand Leonisa; and Mexico’s largest long haul trucking company, Grupo Transportes Monterrey. Individual investor, Jason Radisson the former chief operating officer of the on-demand ride hailing startup 99, also invested.
The new capital comes on top of Liftit’s $14.3 million Series A from some of the region’s top local investors. Firms like Monashees, Jaguar Ventures and NXTP Ventures all joined the International Finance Corp. in financing the company previously and all returned to back the company again with its new funding.
Investors likely responded to the company’s strong performance in its core markets. Already profitable in Chile and Colombia, Liftit expects to reach profitability across all of its operations before the end of the year. That’s despite the global pandemic.
Of the 220 contracts the company had with shippers half of them went to zero and the other half spiked significantly, York said. While Liftit’s major Colombian customer stumbled, new business, like Walmart, saw huge spikes in deliveries and usage.
“Managing truck drivers is incredibly difficult, and trucking, in our opinion, is not on demand,” said York. “At the end of the day the trucking market in all of Latin America is a majority of independent owners. They’re not looking for on-demand work… they’re looking for full time work.”
Less than one percent of the company’s deliveries come from on-demand orders, instead, it’s a service comprised of scheduled shipments with optimized routes and efficiencies that are bringing customers to Liftit’s virtual door.
“We do scheduled trucking delivery so we integrate with existing systems that shippers have and start planning how many trucks they’re going to need and the routes they’re going to take and … tee it up exactly what is going to happen regardless what the traffic conditions are so we have been able to reduce the delivery times for the trucks,” said York.
Teaser images and leaked photos of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class suggested the automaker was moving towards a more digital-centric interior. That might have been an understatement.
Mercedes-Benz revealed Monday its second-generation MBUX infotainment system and it is loaded with new technology, including touchscreens, augmented reality head-up display as well as improved voice and facial recognition. Gone are many of the physical switches found in the older version of the S-Class. Mercedes said it removed 27 mechanical switches for the 2021 model.
The upshot: Mercedes’ is linking technology with luxury. And while the entire interior of the new S-Class has yet to be revealed, it appears the company is transitioning away from a rather crowded dash and center console area that in previous models included every kind of analog button and switch as well as newer digital displays.
Before diving into the tech that stands out in the newest version of MBUX, here’s a handy graphic that provides an overview.
The first-generation Mercedes-Benz User Experience or MBUX system was unveiled in January 2018 at the CES tech trade show and debuted in the automaker’s A Class hatchback. That was a departure for Mercedes, which has historically reserved its best tech for its flagship model the S-Class. Mercedes is returning to that strategy with the new version of MBUX heading to the 2021 S-Class.
Here are the highlights.
You read that correctly. The 2021 Mercedes S Class will have up to five touchscreens, which includes displays for passengers. The S-Class will come standardly equipped with 12.8-inch OLED screens that include haptic feedback.
The user can control or access features on the displays by touching or swiping the actual screen or by using voice control, natural hand gestures and now gaze control. Mercedes did hold back on keep some functions like lights and windshield wipers off of the touchscreen. The climate control panel is permanently at the lower edge of the display.
The system will provide the kind of customization an S-Class owner would expect. Preferences can be stored in the vehicle’s personal “Mercedes me” profile. Up to seven different profiles are possible in the vehicle.
The appearance of the screens can also be individualized with a choice of four display styles — discreet, sporty, exclusive and classic. The are three users modes as well to cover navigation, assistance and service. Screen content can also be shared with other passengers.
In the backseat, where up to three screens are optionally available, passengers can share select and amend navigation destinations.
Mercedes has adopted 3D technology into the vehicle, specifically for the driver display. The three-dimensional effect is possible without having to wear 3D glasses, the automaker said.
The company was able to achieve this effect by combining a conventional LCD display with a special pixel structure and a controllable LCD aperture grill. A barrier mask is placed a few millimeters in front of the LCD. The result is that the left and right eye see different pixels of the LCD, creating the illusion of depth.
The 3D display feature can be adjusted to a 2D or flatter graphic.
Mercedes-Benz put an early emphasis on voice in the first-generation of MBUX. The automaker said it has improved its voice assistant further. For instance, certain actions can be triggered without the ‘Hey Mercedes’ activation keyword to accept a phone call or display the navigation map. “Hey Mercedes” can now explain further in-car questions such as, where the first-aid kit is located or how to connect a smartphone via Bluetooth.
The voice assistant now understands commands and questions relating to infotainment sector and vehicle operation in 27 languages. It has also become far more natural and continues to learn — two areas we hope to test. For instance, the voice assistant understands indirect language such as if a user says “I am cold” instead of the clear command “Set temperature in footwell to 72 degrees.”
There’s also a new “Chit-Chat” feature that supplies the right answer to many questions — even questions about animal noises or general knowledge can be answered, Mercedes claims.
Mercedes is all in on the security of this vehicle. The classic PIN entry is still on the S-Class. The automaker has added a new authentication method ensure a high level of security.
The system now combines fingerprint, face and voice recognition. This allows access to individual settings. That extra layer of security isn’t there to protect your seating preference, although perhaps that’s worth protecting. It’s also there to allow users to make payments digitally from within the vehicle.
Besides the voice assistant, the infotainment system is equipped with other tools to assist the driver.
For instance, there’s a special blind spot warning designed for drivers leaving their vehicle. Sensors and cameras can detect the driver’s intention to leave and will issue warning if there are road users and obstacles alongside the car. Another warning will alert of an unattached child seat on the front passenger seat.
The vehicle will also listen for cues to gauge the alertness level of the driver. If the driver says “I’m tired,” an activation program of energizing comfort control is started. The same sentence from the rear starts a well-being program.
Swiftmile, the startup that makes and deploys charging stations for electric bikes and scooters in cities, has raised a $5 million round led by Thayer Ventures with participation from Verizon Ventures, Alumni Ventures Groups and WSGR. This round brings Swiftmile’s total funding to $11 million.
“What’s happening today is streets are being totally reimagined,” Swiftmile co-founder and CEO Colin Roche told TechCrunch. “If you talk to any city planner, the old rules are being thrown out and new ones are being written. Public transportation use has plummeted because people are scared of [COVID-19] transmission in closed environments. We went from being a nice to have to a need to have.”
Swiftmile works with cities to deploy charging hubs and charges the operators by the minute, but not to exceed a certain amount, depending on the market. Initially, the docking system will be open to all operators in order to show them how it works and how beneficial it can be. After a certain period of time, Swiftmile will only charge its customers’ scooters.
With the new funding, Swiftmile plans to deploy its systems in three additional cities in the U.S., as well as work on expanding into Europe. Currently, Swiftmile has 150 smart-charging stations deployed throughout the U.S.
Ford is finally taking the wraps off the reborn Bronco next week. Literally. The company has teased the vehicle for months, showing a camouflaged SUV bouncing through rocky streams and charging over dusty hills. This week, the wraps come off and the sheet metal will finally be exposed.
The launch of the Bronco looks to be a masterclass in nostalgia. For the last few weeks, Ford has been feeding journalists with media assets — pictures, staged interviews, and upcoming advertisements. And I’ve yet to see the full vehicle because in the end, Ford is not relying on the Bronco itself to drive sales, but rather, is digging deep into the power of nostalgia to move the Bronco off lots.
Recalling the past can help companies develop a unified theme around a product or service. And in this case with the Bronco, only recalling part of the past helps companies dial in messaging. With Ford, the company wants consumers in agreement: this is a tough vehicle and it’s always been a tough vehicle. Forget about OJ, these adverts say. Instead, look at how the Bronco was used by two burly men bounding over the rolling hills of a cattle ranch. Ford is digging deep into American lore to show the Bronco as a rugged conqueror of the frontier instead of a conqueror of parking lot flowerbeds.
The Bronco is an iconic American vehicle. It wasn’t the best selling, nor the best performing vehicle in its class. It had reliability issues, and was often underpowered and outclassed by competitors. And yet, like the Mustang, it was a hit for Ford. In 1966 Ford unveiled the Bronco as a competitor to the Jeep CJ-5 and International Harvester Scout. Ford took the Bronco racing, and racked up wins in long-distance endurance races. Over its 31-year run, the Bronco remained true to itself as a two-door, sport utility vehicle.
The upcoming model is set to be different than the past. Ford is relaunching the Bronco as a family of vehicles with three models at launch. Little is known about the difference at this time, though the family appears to include a two-door off-roader, four door version and an entry-level sport model.
The launch of the new Bronco is similar to how Ford launched the retro Mustang in 2005. At the time, the Mustang was coming off decades of stale designs and lagging sales. The Fox body Mustang of the 80s was boring at best (though the 5.0 engine is notable), and the swooping design of the ’90s model was uninspired. In 1999, Ford launched a sharp, modern take on the Mustang, and yet in a few years, it was time for something new.
Karma Automotive has raised a $100 million lifeline from outside investors, as reported by Bloomberg, with the struggling electric vehicle maker’s fortunes likely buoyed by the current market optimism on other EV companies including Tesla. Karma is the reincarnated version of Fisker Automotive, which previously faced bankruptcy before being acquired by Wanxiang Group in 2014.
Karma Automotive has made more progress than Fisker ever did, including actually delivering around 500 of its inaugural Revero electric sport sedan in 2019. The company will be continuing to sell the Revero, which retails staring at around $140,000, and will also be looking to add a high horsepower GTE version, as well as a supercar for an even higher-tier customer.
The automaker also says that it’s in discussions with a partner for a commercial delivery truck, which it intends to develop in prototype form by year’s end. There are a number of different companies pursuing delivery vans for use by courier companies including UPS and FedEx, and the increase in e-commerce spending does present an opportunity for multiple players to succeed in this category, even as there is a rush on in terms of entrants.
Karma will also seek to leverage and extend the benefits of its fresh investment by shopping around its EV platform to other automakers and OEMs, the company says, and also will eventually expand beyond pure EVs to hybrid fuel vehicles. In short, it sounds like Karma is willing to try just about everything and anything to chart a path towards profitability, but time will tell if that’s intelligent opportunism, or scattershot desperation.
“You know we don’t drive down that road,” my father said.
I had asked him why we never took the shortest path to the beach. Just eight years old, I was fascinated by maps and was questioning my father’s choice. Years later I would learn the route I suggested was mired with armed groups of all stripes whose interests didn’t align with mine or that of other Colombian families.
You may be familiar with the conflicts that plagued Colombia for decades, but you might not be aware of the progress institutions, advocacy groups and its government have made with regard to building a future where citizens have options and mobility that’s not constrained by armed conflict.
In fact, Colombia has at times improved its “ease of doing business” ranking as measured by the World Bank. The country, its institutions and its leaders have a longer way to go when it comes to ensuring that opportunity reaches all corners of the country, particularly at a time that COVID-19 magnifies the inequities that persist. But one thing is for sure, the path to prosperity would look a lot better if Colombia further embraced innovation.
I have dedicated the last decade to Colombia’s path to prosperity. I have done so by studying at Colombia’s most prestigious Universidad de Los Andes, raising more than $10 million in venture capital and building two companies that generate direct and indirect earnings for more than 70,000 Colombians. I have directly retained hundreds of computer engineers by showing young Colombians that it’s possible to earn a good living without emigrating for professional opportunities. Heck, I’ve even convinced a few past emigrants to return to Colombia and work for me at Picap.
My contribution to Colombia’s prosperity and the contribution of thousands of talented engineers that build technology in Colombia is at risk. It’s at risk because the Colombian authorities and the legislative branch have been slow to update transportation and technology regulation designed for an era when regulation could last decades because the pace of societal innovation was measured in, well, decades.
In Colombia, we need to update regulations governing technology and transportation. The ever present threats that Colombian authorities and regulators have imposed on Uber and Picap are not only futile attempts to put the technology genie back into the bottle, but also delay the critical conversations that would build long-term partnership for mutual success.
It’s urgent that Colombia and countries around the globe construct regulatory frameworks that simultaneously advance the public good and technology innovation. We, in fact, have evidence of the kinds of benefits that can expand when new mobility models and technologies are embraced. Take GoJek or Grab which started, like Picap, as two-wheel ride-hailing platforms. Each is now worth billions and facilitates commerce, financial services and more, all for the benefit of societies which then produce more consumer surplus, formalize economic activity and stimulate new forms of innovation. Picap, and others, can do this in Colombia and more places across Latin America with regulatory advancements.
There are congressional leaders in Colombia who have made considerable efforts to advance their understanding of technology platforms, but their efforts, however laudable, have not advanced. Now, more than ever, Colombia’s leaders must, for example, recognize that private transport services need regulation that works for the citizens that power new mobility options. Every country in the globe faces a reckoning based on how easily COVID-19 weakened state-supported and independent systems of health, mobility and economic activity. Technology will be an inevitable component of strengthening health, mobility and economic activity in every country. We’ve already seen that delivery platforms, including Pibox by Picap, increasingly play a role in helping countries preserve social distancing. And yet there’s an opportunity for states to differentiate and think about not just defensive strategies during the pandemic, but also how to remake themselves for the future.
Colombia can learn from the example of South Korea, which for years positioned itself to fulfill the world’s future demands for the types of silicon chips that subsequently made LG and Samsung household names. South Korea did this not by impeding technological advancement, but by facilitating the development of know-how, investing in education and partnering with technology. As technologists, there’s nothing that would make us prouder than helping Colombia develop the kinds of economic activity that will strengthen the country in the long-term. I’ve seen the future, I practice it daily, and I know that Latin America, and Colombia in particular, need to invest in retaining tech talent and advancing regulatory frameworks that attract technology investment, or our economies will struggle even further in the coming years of potential recovery from COVID-19.
Recently, the Alianza IN, a mobility platform trade group, launched in Colombia with the goal of advancing conversations with Colombian lawmakers and regulators on the principles that the Colombian MinTIC (Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications) could incorporate to help attract more investment, retain talent and proactively prepare for a future in which mobility and technology platforms are critical partners of the country’s economic future. Technology platforms are already a part of the present, and the Alianza IN’s actions are a great step on the path toward ensuring that updated regulatory frameworks serve the millions of Colombian citizens who depend on mobility and technology platforms for income, mobility and improved quality of life.
Last year, Colombian technology companies received more than $1.2 billion of investment capital. I am impressed with the new headlines my generation and Colombian colleagues across technology have achieved in only 20 years. But I can assure you that Colombia’s headlines in the 21st century will be stunted if Colombian politicians and authorities do not address the underlying need to improve regulation that embraces technology and new mobility, including Picap. We have room to grow and show the world how our tenacity and resilience will help address not just Colombian or Latin American challenges, but global challenges.
I look forward to soon meeting the young Colombian woman who in 20 or even three years will have developed a renewable energy or disease-prevention innovation that serves billions of people. We have to remove roadblocks. We’ve begun doing so across Colombia on some fronts; we need to continue to do so on the technology front. I, alongside, my generation, will continue to attract the capital, retain the talent and further develop the competitive advantages that will position Colombia to lead in the 21st century.
I hope that the Colombian government, regulators and the Duque administration does this, as well.
Why is Uber so far ahead of Lyft, its domestic ride-hailing rival that is suffering from the same economic impacts? It appears that investors are heartened that Uber has closed its Postmates acquisition after both firms danced around each other for some time, leading to all sorts of leaks that wound up being not coming true.
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This explains why Uber investors are excited about Uber’s Postmates buy; what about the smaller company is making Uber shares so buoyant? Let’s take a walk through the numbers this morning.
If we reexamine Uber Eats’ recent growth, contrast it to Ubers Rides’ own growth, mix in Eats’ profitability improvements along with Postmates’ own financial results, we can start to see why public investors might be heartened by the deal.
Afterward, we’ll toss in a note about how Postmates may provide Uber some narrative ammunition heading into earnings. This exercise should be fun, and a good break from our recent IPO coverage. Let’s get into the numbers.
In case you are behind, Uber is buying Postmates for $2.65 billion in an all-cash deal. Uber estimated that it would issue around 84 million shares to pay for the transaction. At its share price as of the time of writing, the deal is worth $2.72 billion at Uber’s newer share price. For reference, that price tag is about 4.8% of Uber’s current-moment market cap.
To understand why Uber would spend nearly 5% of its worth to buy a smaller rival, let’s remind ourselves of the performance of the group that it will plug into, namely Uber Eats.
From Uber’s Q1 2020 financial reporting, the following chart will ground our exploration, showing how Eats has performed in recent quarters:
Via Uber’s financial reporting. Q1 2019 on the left, Q1 2020 on the right.
Distressed satellite constellation operator OneWeb, which had entered bankruptcy protection proceedings at the end of March, has completed a sale process, with a consortium led by the UK Government as the winner. The group, which includes funding from India’s Bharti Global – part of business magnate Sunila Mittal’s Bharti Enterprises – plan to pursue OneWeb’s plans of building out a broadband internets satellite network, while the UK would also like to potentially use the constellation for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services in order to replace the EU’s sat-nav resource, which the UK lost access to in January as a result of Brexit.
The deal involves both Bharti Global and the UK government putting up around $500 million each, respectively, with the UK taking a 20 percent equity stake in OneWeb, and Bharti supplying the business management and commercial operations for the satellite firm.
OneWeb, which has launched a total of 74 of its planned 650 satellite constellation to date, suffered lay-offs and the subsequent bankruptcy filing after an attempt to raise additional funding to support continued launches and operations fell through. That was reportedly due in large part to majority private investor SoftBank backing out of commitments to invest additional funds.
The BBC reports that while OneWeb plans to essentially scale back up its existing operations, including reversing lay-offs, should the deal pass regulatory scrutiny, there’s a possibility that down the road it could relocate some of its existing manufacturing capacity to the UK. Currently, OneWeb does its spacecraft manufacturing out of Florida in a partnership with Airbus.
OneWeb is a London-based company already, and its constellation can provide access to low latency, high-speed broadband via low Earth orbit small satellites, which could potentially be a great resource for connecting UK citizens to affordable, quality connections. The PNT navigation services extension would be an extension of OneWeb’s existing mission, but theoretically, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to leverage planned in-space assets to serve a second purpose.
Also, while the UK currently lacks its own native launch capabilities, the country is working towards developing a number of spaceports for both vertical and horizontal take-off – which could enable companies like Virgin Orbit, and other newcomers like Skyrora, to establish small-sat launch capabilities from UK soil, which would make maintaining and extending in-space assets like OneWeb’s constellation much more accessible as a domestic resource.
Jump bikes are returning to London — this time through its new owner Lime .
London is the first city in Europe to see Jump bikes return since Uber offloaded the company to Lime in a complex deal that unfolded in May. Lime raised $170 million in a funding round led by Uber, along with other existing investors Alphabet, Bain Capital Ventures and GV. As part of the deal, Lime acquired Jump, the electric bike and scooter division that Uber acquired in 2018 for around $200 million.
When the deal closed with Lime, thousands of Jump bikes were scrapped in the United States and the entire Jump team — some 400 employees — lost their jobs. Lime closed the acquisition of Jump in Europe several weeks after the transaction closed in the U.S. Until now, it was unclear if the Jump bikes in Europe would suffer the same fate as their counterparts in the United States.
Thousands of Jump bikes were pulled off the streets in European cities such as Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Malaga, Munich, Paris, Rome and Rotterdam. It’s unlikely that Lime will put Jump bikes back in all of these cities. Sources have said Lime plans to redeploy Jump scooters and bikes in London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona. Today’s announcement appears to be the first step.
For now, the Jump bikes will be available in the Uber app in London. The Jump bikes will be added to the Lime app at a later date as a result of ongoing systems integration, the company said. The fleet size will start at around 100 e-bikes and will grow based on demand. Pricing will be £1 unlock and 15p per minute thereafter. Bikes will be deployed in Camden and Islington, Lime said.
Demand for bikes appears to have prompted Lime to bring Jump back into service. The company said that since lockdown restrictions have eased, Lime’s e-bike rental service has seen record usage. The micromobility company said users are taking longer journeys and the bikes are being used more frequently. Lime also recorded its highest-ever usage in a single day over a weekend in mid-June with more than 4,000 new users. Lime said its e-bike network has now facilitated over 1.5 million journeys across London.
The reintroduction of Jump bikes in London is part of a broader plan by Lime to increase its presence in the city. Earlier this week, the UK announced that an e-scooter pilot program would begin Saturday. Lime said it has partnered with global insurance giant Allianz to provide coverage for Lime e-scooter riders in the UK. Lime said it co-designed a two-year safety campaign with Allianz that will run until March 2022.
Velodyne Lidar, the leading supplier of a sensor widely considered critical to the commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles, said Thursday it has struck a deal to merge with special-purpose acquisition company Graf Industrial Corp., with a market value of $1.8 billion.
The company said it able to raise $150 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, from new institutional investors as well as existing shareholders of Graf Industrial. Through the transaction, Velodyne will have about $192 million in cash on its balance sheet.
Velodyne’s founder David Hall along with backers Ford, Chinese search engine Baidu, Hyundai Mobis and Nikon Corp. will keep an 80% stake in the combined company. Hall will become executive chairman and Anand Gopalan will keep his CEO position.
The merger is expected to close in the third quarter of 2020. The combined company will remain on the NYSE and trade under a new ticker symbol VLDR following the close of the business combination, Velodyne said.
The agreement marks the latest company to turn to SPACs in lieu of a traditional IPO process. Earlier this week, online used car marketplace startup Shift Technologies announced an agreement to merge with SPAC Insurance Acquisition Corp. The newly combined company will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol. Nikola Motor also went public via a SPAC earlier this year.
Velodyne will become a publicly traded company amid a period of consolidation in the broader autonomous vehicle industry. Startups, automakers and tech giants have extended their timelines in the capitally intensive pursuit of developing and deploying AVs. Some startups have been swallowed up by larger companies, while others have become defunct. It has also prompted automakers in the past 18 months to shift more resources and attention towards advanced driver assistance systems in passenger cars, trucks and SUVs.
Lidar is perhaps one of the most crowded sub categories in the autonomous vehicle industry. Lidar is a sensor that measures distance using laser light to generate highly accurate 3D maps of the world around the car. The sensor is considered by most in the self-driving car industry a key piece of technology required to safely deploy robotaxis and other autonomous vehicles.
Velodyne is best known for its “KFC bucket” spinning-laser lidar. The design was inspired by sensor failures in vehicles competing in the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2004. Hall developed the spinning laser lidar and sold the sensors to teams competing in a future autonomous vehicle DARPA competition. The KFC buckets were the go-to lidar sensors for companies working on autonomous vehicles. Waymo, back when it was just the Google self-driving project, even used Velodyne LiDAR sensors until 2012.
However, Spinning lidar units are expensive and mechanically complex. It spurred a new generation of lidar startups to try new approaches. Today, there are dozens of lidar companies — some counts track upwards of 70 — trying to convince automakers and AV developers to use their sensors. And they’re all aiming for Velodyne.
This new generation of companies has prompted Velodyne to evolve as well. The company announced at CES 2020 in January new sensors, including a tiny $100 lidar unit called Velabit as well the VelaDome and a software product called Vella.
“There’s no argument about the market opportunity for lidar,” Gopalan told TechCrunch reporter Devin Coldewey back in January. “I think the right conversation is about what you want to do with it. Others are focused on level 2+ or 3 [autonomy, i.e. above simple driver assistance] — what we want to do is short-circuit that approach. The only reason it’s not being adopted at lower levels is price. If I say you can have lidar for a hundred dollars, of course you’re going to use it. Under a hundred dollars, you can’t even imagine the applications you open up: drones, home robotics, sidewalk robots.”
The company has spent the past several years focused on reducing the cost of its lidar as well as diversifying its portfolio. The Velabit is just one example of the company’s efforts to lock in customers outside of the AV industry. The small sensor doesn’t have the capabilities needed for autonomous vehicles. Instead, Velodyne sees an application for the sensor to be used on smaller industrial robots.
Ford is teaming up with Disney Media Networks to mark the return of its iconic Bronco SUV through a series of short films that will be broadcast across a number of cable and digital properties including ABC, ESPN, National Geographic and Hulu.
The strategy — prompted by COVID-19 shutdowns — is a departure for Ford, which has traditionally revealed new vehicles at auto shows or other in-person media events. More than three years ago, Ford announced it was bringing back the Bronco after years of customer requests and speculation. The mid-size SUV that ended its 30-year production run in 1996 was supposed to debut in June at the revamped North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Ford was forced to come up with a new strategy after organizers cancelled the 2020 NAIAS due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bronco will be revealed in 3-minute films that will air during the first commercial break in the 8 p.m. ET hour July 13 on ABC, ESPN and National Geographic. Ford will begin taking reservations for the Bronco as the films air. The automaker plans to share additional information about the upcoming Bronco models on its YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter channels.
The short films will be available on-demand via Hulu the following day.
Ford is collaborating with Disney CreativeWorks to create the reveal stories. Jimmy Chin, director, cinematographer, photographer and professional climber best known for the Academy Award-winning documentary Free Solo, was tapped for the project.
“Ford Bronco is an icon that has captured people’s imaginations and inspired them to explore the most remote corners of America and the world since the 1960s,” said Jim Farley, Ford’s chief operating officer. “As a new era for Bronco begins, we’re proud to tap the strengths of epic adventurers like Jimmy Chin and Disney storytellers to help bring Bronco to life and inspire millions of people to get out into the wild.”
The short films will be different for each channel. On ABC, the film will star country music singer Kip Moore and air during “CMA Best of Fest,” the Country Music Association’s three-hour concert experience. Professional climber Brooke Raboutou will be featured in a film that will air on ESPN during its SportsCenter show. hin highlight a new Bronco model during the National Parks: Yosemite episode on the National Geographic channel. Chin will judge a hashtag challenge contest and appear in an Instagram Story featuring the Bronco on NatGeo’s Instagram account, Ford said.
Self-driving trucks startup TuSimple laid out a plan Wednesday to create a mapped network of shipping routes and terminals designed for autonomous trucking operations that will extend across the United States by 2024. UPS, which owns a minority stake in TuSimple, carrier U.S. Xpress, Penske Truck Leasing and Berkshire Hathaway’s grocery and food service supply chain company McLane Inc. are the inaugural partners in this so-called autonomous freight network (AFN).
TuSimple’s AFN involves four pieces: its self-driving trucks, digital mapped routes, freight terminals and a system that will let customers monitor autonomous trucking operations and track their shipments in real-time. For now, TuSimple will operate the trucks and carry goods for its customers, which now number 22. TuSimple wants to eventually be able to sell its autonomous trucks so customers can choose to operate their own fleets.
The plan was made public just days after TechCrunch learned that TuSimple had hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to help it raise $250 million. Morgan Stanley recently sent potential investors an informational packet, viewed by TechCrunch, that provides a snapshot of the company and an overview of its business model, as well as a pitch on why the company is poised to succeed — all standard fare for companies seeking investors. TuSimple, which has raised $298 million to date, has also shared its plans to build its autonomous freight network with potential investors.
TuSimple said the network will be rolled out in three phases, starting with a focus on a service area in the Southwest where it already operates. Phase 1, which will launch in 2020 and into 2021, will cover service between cities Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. TuSimple plans to open this fall a new shipping terminal in Dallas. TuSimple said these terminals are designed to be shared by mid-sized customers. TuSimple will carry freight directly to a company’s distribution center if it is a high-volume customer.
The second phase will begin in 2022 and expand service from Los Angeles to Jacksonville and connect the east coast with the west, the company said.
The final phase will expand across the lower 48 states, beginning in 2023. The company said it will replicate the strategy in Europe and Asia after the AFN rolls out nationwide.
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Hi friends and first-time readers. Welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.
Remember please reach out and email me at email@example.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.
Typically this space is where I philosophize about a specific event and emerging transportation trend. This week, let’s all take a pause to remember Jessi Combs, who was officially and posthumously declared to hold the fastest land speed record by a woman.
The Guinness Book of World Records certified this week the 522.783 mph land speed record that Combs achieved August 27, 2019 in the Alvord Desert in Oregon. Combs died after her vehicle crashed during that run. It’s the first time a new record has been set in this category in more than 40 years. Kitty O’Neil held the record with her 512.7 mph run set back in 1976.
Here’s to you Jessi, the fastest woman on earth.
Did anyone have trouble keeping up with all the deals, virtual automotive reveals and policy decisions this week? Yeah. Me too. Let’s get to it. Vamos.
A couple of cities are emerging as new battlegrounds for the shared e-scooter market. New York City is a biggie.
This week, the New York City Council approved a bill that will require the New York Department of Transportation to create a pilot program for the operation of shared electric scooters in the city. The DOT now has until October 15, 2020 to issue a request for proposals to participate in a shared e-scooter pilot program.
The pilot program must launch by March 1, 2021. The NY council will continue to work with DOT on determining where to set up the pilot (this is the important part). If the pilot program limits the service area it could prove a failure, several e-scooter companies and advocates told me. We know it won’t include Manhattan. That leaves four other boroughs.
Just about every e-scooter company — and a number of other less known players — are planning to apply for the permit. The next nine months promises a lot of lobbying activity. These firms are already busy, according to our sources. Stay tuned!
The NY city council also approved two laws about the use of privately owned electric bikes and scooters.
Meanwhile, Apple has finally added a new biking feature to Maps. The newest version of iOS is bringing a host of new features to Maps, including a dedicated cycling option that will optimize paths for bicyclists and even let users know if the route includes challenging hills. Apple Maps has included public transit and walking in previous iterations. But the biking option has been the most requested, according to Apple senior director Stacey Lysik.
Amazoooooxxxxx. Zamazon? It’s a thing now. In case you missed it, Amazon acquired Zoox.
There have been rumors, speculation and reports about the fate of self-driving vehicle startup for months now. The WSJ had the first report in May that Amazon was in talks to acquire the self-driving company.
The official announcement, which was issued Friday morning, didn’t reveal much about the terms of the deal except that Zoox CEO Aicha Evans and co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson will continue to lead Zoox as a standalone business.
As you might expect, there was nary a financial figure in sight. The Financial Times put the deal at $1.2 billion and The Information pegged it at “more than $1 billion.” Either way, the acquisition price was well below the $3.2 billion valuation Zoox had achieved two years before.
It wasn’t a secret that Zoox was struggling to raise a large enough round. As I’ve stated numerous times before, Zoox has the kind of ambitions that require a mountain of capital. And by mountain, I mean far north of $1 billion. The company isn’t just building the full self-driving stack — essentially the suite of hardware and software that replaces a human driver. It took on the design and development of a new bidirectional electric vehicle with no steering wheel and it plans to operate a ride-hailing service as well.
The upshot: Zoox didn’t have a lot of options. Many automakers, Tier 1 suppliers and tech companies had already formed their various alliances and partnerships, leaving Zoox on its own. Amazon certainly has the resources to help it hit its lofty goals. That is, IF Amazon doesn’t change those goals for Zoox. For now, Amazon is publicly sticking to Zoox’ mission to build and operate a fleet of robotaxis.
And we can expect more Amazon flexing in the transportation industry. The e-commerce announced this week a $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund to invest in sustainable technologies and services that will help the company reach its commitment to be net-zero carbon in its operations by 2040. Some of that coin will go towards automation and transportation.
Other deals that got our attention ….
Self-driving truck startup TuSimple has hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to help it raise $250 million, multiple sources told me. Morgan Stanley recently sent potential investors an informational packet, which I also viewed, that provides a snapshot of the company and an overview of its business model, as well as a pitch on why the company is poised to succeed. TuSimple has raised about $298 million with a valuation of more than $1 billion. Its backers include Sina, operator of China’s biggest microblogging site Weibo, Hong Kong-based investment firm Composite Capital, Nvidia, UPS, CDH Investments, Lavender Capital and Tier 1 supplier Mando Corporation.
ADAM CogTech, an Israeli automotive software startup, raised $2 million from Mobilion Ventures, the company said. Mobilion is an early-stage fund that invests in smart mobility, focusing on Israeli and global after-market innovation.
Amazon’s $575 million investment into UK food delivery startup Deliveroo has been cleared by the country’s competition regulator. The investment, which was announced more than a year ago, gave Amazon a 16% stake in Deliveroo. Now that CMA has provisionally cleared the deal, it is open for public comments until July 10. A final decision is expected August 6.
Cazoo, the British online used car marketplace, raised £25 million at a valuation in excess of $1 billion. Draper Esprit joined existing investors in the round, a group that includes DMG Ventures and General Catalyst. Cazoo has raised more than £200 million to date.
DriveU.auto, an Israeli startup that spun out of video transmission technology company LiveU, came out of stealth with $4 million in new funding. The startup has developed a connectivity platform for teleoperations. The funding round was led by RAD group co-founder Zohar Zisapel and included participation from Two Lanterns Venture Partners, Yigal Jacoby, Kaedan Capital and other private investors. Francisco Partners is an existing shareholder.
Lucid Motors gave up majority ownership to Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund in exchange for the $1.3 billion investment it closed last year, according to information disclosed in a new lawsuit, the Verge reported. Wired Middle East previously reported the PIF had taken a 67% stake. However, this is the first time an acknowledgment from the company has been made public.
Shift Technologies, an online used car marketplace, is in talks to merge with blank-check company Insurance Acquisition Corp., Bloomberg reported. Shift is aiming to be valued at more than $500 million in the deal.
Third Wave Automation, a startup developing autonomous forklift technology, emerged from stealth with $15 million in equity financing, VentureBeat reported.
Volkswagen is in talks to buy Europcar Mobility Group, the French car rental company that has a market capitalization of 390 million euros ($441 million) and net debt as of more than 1 billion euros, Reuters reported.
Trucks have popped up a lot this week, so I figured, heck let’s dig in a bit. The big trendy discussion is about how robotaxis are OUT and autonomous Class 8 trucks are IN. This move towards trucking has actually been happening for awhile now.
The niche subcategory in the autonomous vehicle industry was rather empty in 2015 when TuSimple was founded. Then self-driving truck startup Otto came along. Uber’s 2016 acquisition of Otto certainly brought some attention to the sector. But a number of other startups had also thrown their respective hats into the trucking ring, including Embark and the now defunct Starsky Robotics. Today, this sub-industry includes Ike, Kodiak Robotics and Waymo .
This week, Amazon-backed Aurora received some press for its “shift” to trucking based off of an interview with co-founder Sterling Anderson during The Information’s Autonomous Vehicle Summit.
Let’s be clear, the company has been publicly talking about trucks since at least October 2019. The notable bit is that Anderson shared more about its work with trucks and was clearly bullish on the potential in the marketplace. Together, his comments suggest that the company is prioritizing the development of autonomous trucks over cars.
But the company designed a full self-driving stack meant to have a variety of applications, not just passenger cars. In a tweet after the interview, Anderson summarized its whole approach.
We’re compelled by a product path that goes from middle mile to last mile to mobility services.
If you can swing this technically, it allows for an elegant transition from the largest market (today) with the best unit economics and lowest level of service requirements to smaller, but rapidly growing markets with more challenging unit economics and level of service needs”
In other truckin’ news …
The California Air Resources Board adopted a new rule to phase out the most polluting vehicles on the road today. The rule will require truck manufacturers to transition from diesel trucks and vans to electric zero-emission trucks beginning in 2024. By 2045, every new truck sold in California will be zero-emission.
Russian-Finnish company Zyfra is using 5G technology to replace Wi-Fi/mesh networks used for autonomous mining dump trucks, CNET’s Roadshow reports.
AVs, ride-hailing, electric vehicles and more!
Autonomous vehicles …
Didi Chuxing said Saturday (today) that its on-demand robotaxi service will start picking up riders in Shanghai, China. Passengers may start requesting on-demand rides for free on autonomous vehicles within a designated open-traffic area that covers Shanghai’s Automobile Exhibition Center, the local business districts, subway stations and hotels in downtown Shanghai, the company said in a press release.
Lyft is using data collected from drivers on its ride-hailing app to accelerate the development of self-driving cars. Lyft’s Level 5 self-driving car program is using the data to build 3D maps, understand human driving patterns and improve simulation tests. The program is taking data from select vehicles in its Express Drive program, which provides rental cars and SUVs to drivers on its platform as an alternative to options like long-term leasing
Waymo and Volvo Car Group announced Thursday an “exclusive” partnership to integrate Waymo’s self-driving software into a new electric vehicle designed for ride-hailing. Not a ton of detail about the deal or what “exclusive” means. We know that Volvo and Uber still have a partnership. The deal with Waymo involves integrating its self-driving stack into an “all-new mobility-focused electric vehicle platform for ride hailing services.” The partnership also includes other subsidiaries under Volvo Car Group, including electric performance brand Polestar and Lynk & Co. International, a point that Volvo Car Group CTO Henrik Green specifically noted in his prepared statement.
Mercedes-Benz and Nvidia announced a partnership to bring “software-defined” vehicles to market. The automaker’s next-generation vehicles will have a software-centric computing architecture based on Nvidia’s Drive AGX Orin computer system-on-a-chip. The underlying architecture will be standard in Mercedes vehicles, starting sometime toward the end of 2024.
It’s electric …
Apple has added a routing feature to Maps that’s designed for electric vehicle owners. The EV routing feature, which will be available in the newest version of iOS, will show charging stations compatible to a user’s electric vehicle along their route. TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet got a bit more information on this feature. He tells me that users will be able to enter their car model in the app, which will provide stops. The user can tap on the stops to see if the charging station is free or not. On sidenote, Apple is also releasing a feature that will prompt you to raise your phone and scan buildings across the street to refine your location. This feature is based on Look Around, a Google Street View-inspired feature that lets you look around as if you were walking down the street.
Arrival revealed a zero-emission bus, the next step in the company to become a major electric transportation company, the Verge reported.
Ars Technica digs into one Ohio city’s plan to get more people to buy electric cars. Hint: it worked.
Lordstown Motors unveiled an electric pickup truck prototype with four in-wheel hub motors and a few other features all aimed squarely at attracting contractors and other buyers in the commercial market. The Ohio startup didn’t get too deep into the details about the electric pickup truck known as Endurance. But we know a few more bits such as a $52,500 base price and some partnerships.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter that September 15 is the “tentative date” for the “Tesla Shareholder Meeting & Battery Day,” which will include the usual shareholder meeting as well as a tour of the automaker’s cell production system for the batteries that provide the power for its vehicles.
Speaking of Tesla … the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened a preliminary investigation into allegations of failing touchscreens on Tesla’s older Model S vehicles.
Lyft has agreed to settle a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice that alleges the ridesharing company discriminated against disabled people — specifically those who use foldable wheelchairs or walkers.
Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs plans to spin out some of its smart city ideas into separate companies focused on mass timber construction, affordable electrification and planning tools optimized with machine learning and computation design, CEO Daniel Doctoroff said at Collision from Home conference, VentureBeat reported.
Ford’s Michigan Central is collaborating with Brooklyn-based Newlab to launch two “Innovation Studios” focused on solving complex transportation industry problems related to connectivity, autonomy and electrification. A corporate studio sponsored by Ford will kick off this summer to address macro mobility issues. A second civic studio will follow focusing on more immediate mobility issues in the neighborhoods around Michigan Central Station. In 2018, Ford acquired 1.2 million square feet in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, including the historic Michigan Central Station, with plans to establish a new mobility innovation district called Michigan Central. The first work spaces are expected to open within Michigan Central in 2022.
GM turned to 3D printing for a C8 Corvette prototype. In the end, 75% of the vehicle was 3D printed, Car and Driver reported.
See ya’ll next week!
Amazon has announced that it will acquire Zoox, a self-driving startup founded in 2014, which has raised nearly $1 billion in funding and which aims to develop autonomous driving technology, including vehicles, for the purposes of providing a full-stack solution for ride-hailing.
Zoox will continue to exist as a standalone business, according to Amazon’s announcement, with current CEO Aicha Evans continuing in her role, as well as CTO and co-founder Jesse Levinson. Their overall company mission will also remain the same, the release notes. The Financial Time reports that the deal is worth $1.2 billion.
The Wall Street Journal had reported at the end of May that Amazon was looking at Zoox as a potential acquisition target, and that the deal had reached the advanced stages.
Zoox has chosen one of the most expensive possible paths in the autonomous driving industry, seeking to build a fit-for-purpose self-driving passenger vehicle from the ground up, along with the software and AI end to provide its autonomous driving capabilities. Zoox has done some notable cost-cutting in the past year, and it brought in CEO Evans in early 2019 from Intel, likely with an eye toward leveraging her experience to help the company move toward commercialization.
With a deep-pocketed parent like Amazon, Zoox should gain the runway it needs to keep up with its primary rival — Waymo, which originated as Google’s self-driving car project, and which counts Google owner Alphabet as its corporate owner.
Amazon has been working on its own autonomous vehicle technology projects, including its last-mile delivery robots, which are six-wheeled sidewalk-treading bots designed to carry small packages to customer homes. The company has also invested in autonomous driving startup Aurora, and it has tested self-driving trucks powered by self-driving freight startup Embark.
The Zoox acquisition is specifically aimed at helping the startup “bring their vision of autonomous ride-hailing to reality,” according to Amazon, so this doesn’t look to be immediately focused on Amazon’s logistics operations for package delivery. But Zoox’s ground-up technology, which includes developing zero-emission vehicles built specifically for autonomous use, could easily translate to that side of Amazon’s operations.
Meanwhile, if Zoox really does remain on course for passenger ride-hailing, that could open up a whole new market for Amazon — one which would put it head-to-head with Uber and Lyft once the autonomous driving technology matures.
Waymo’s self-driving software footprint is expanding — this time in a partnership with Volvo Car Group. The two companies announced Thursday an “exclusive” partnership to integrate Waymo’s self-driving software into a new electric vehicle designed for ride-hailing.
Volvo and Waymo provided just a few details on the partnership and what this might actually look like except that the companies “will first work together to integrate the Waymo Driver into an all-new mobility-focused electric vehicle platform for ride hailing services.” The phrase “first work together” suggests more is coming. We know that the new vehicle platform will be capable of Level 4 autonomy, a designation by SAE that means it can handle all driving in a specific geographic area or in certain weather and road conditions.
The partnership also includes other subsidiaries under Volvo Car Group, including electric performance brand Polestar and Lynk & Co. International, a point that Volvo Car Group CTO Henrik Green specifically noted in his prepared statement.
“Fully autonomous vehicles have the potential to improve road safety to previously unseen levels and to revolutionize the way people live, work and travel,” Volvo Car Group CTO Henrik Green said in a statement. “Our partnership with Waymo opens up new and exciting business opportunities for Volvo Cars, Polestar and Lynk & Co.”
The term “exclusivity” is also used to describe the partnership. But without specific details it’s hard to know where this is headed and what “exclusive” actually means. The exclusivity term is used to describe Waymo’s Level 4 self-driving software, which suggests that the two companies might be co-developing or certainly sharing sensitive information on the inner workings of the stack. It also hints that the partnership is structured to include a possible licensing deal.
Waymo’s strategy so far has been to partner with automakers. Waymo handles the design of its hardware suite, software and compute system. It then works with the automakers to create vehicles that integrate easily with its so-called Waymo Driver. These relationships have largely focused on ride-hailing applications, but could be customized to make the vehicles more suitable for local delivery, trucking and personal car ownership.
If a licensing deal between the two companies materializes, it could be similar to Waymo’s partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. In May 2018, FCA announced it expanded its contract with Waymo to supply the self-driving car company with up to 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans. FCA also said at the time that it was exploring ways to license Waymo’s self-driving car technology in order to deploy the tech in cars for consumers.
Waymo has a supplier partnership with Jaguar Land Rover for up to 20,000 all-electric I-Pace vehicles. In June 2020, Waymo locked in a partnership with Renault and Nissan to research how commercial autonomous vehicles might work for passengers and packages in France and Japan.
Don’t forget that Volvo still has a deal with Uber self-driving unit Uber Advanced Technologies Group. Both Volvo and Uber ATG confirmed that its four-year partnership is still intact. Under that partnership, Volvo is supplying Uber with a vehicle designed for autonomous driving. These special Volvo XC90 vehicles are equipped with the hardware necessary to support Uber’s self-driving software. Uber then integrates its self-driving software stack into the vehicle. Volvo said it has a “framework agreement with Uber to deliver tens of thousands of autonomous drive ready vehicles.”
New York City is on the verge of approving a shared electric scooter pilot program, opening up a potentially lucrative market and new micromobility battleground in the United States.
The New York City Council is expected Thursday to vote on a bill that will require the New York Department of Transportation to create a pilot program for the operation of shared electric scooters in the city. The proposed legislation will first be taken up by the Committee on Transportation at 10 a.m. ET before moving to the full council, which has a meeting scheduled for 1:30 p.m. ET. The committee is expected to approve the measure.
The proposed legislation would require the DOT to issue by October 15, 2020 a request for proposals to participate in a shared e-scooter pilot program. The pilot program would need to launch by March 1, 2021.
“New Yorkers need more sustainable and safe ways to commute and get around during this pandemic–and that is especially true for our essential delivery workers who deserve our gratitude and our support for keeping this city running even through the darkest days of this crisis,” New York Council speaker Corey Johnson said in an emailed statement ahead of tomorrow’s vote. “E-bikes and scooters are going to be a major part of our city’s transit future, and I’m proud of the council’s work to ensure that future arrives safely and equitably.”
Lime is among several shared electric scooter companies eager to participate in the pilot. The micromobility company has spent the past two years working with elected officials, social justice organizations and advocates to finally make scooters available to New Yorkers, Phil Jones, the senior director of government relations for Lime, told TechCrunch in an email.
“The newfound urgency to offer car-alternative transportation options seems to have gotten us to this point,” Jones said.
A recent survey conducted by the New York League of Conservation Voters, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and shared micromobility company Lime suggests there is support for electric scooters in New York City. The survey, which was administered between June 15 to June 19, found 92% of respondents would choose to use scooters as an alternative to cars during the COVID-19 crisis. (It should be noted that the survey was sent to more than 30,000 New Yorkers who are part of the NYLCV, TSTC and Lime networks; 394 people responded).
Spin confirmed that if approved, it plans to apply for a permit. TechCrunch reached out to a number of other e-scooter rental companies, including Bird, Lyft and Skip. The article will be updated if these companies respond.
While the proposed legislation was first introduced two years ago, a pilot program wasn’t technically feasible until this April when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill to legalize the use of throttle-based electric scooters and bikes in the state. Under the state law, shared scooters will not be allowed in Manhattan and a pilot program must be approved by the NY City Council before shared scooter services can operate in the remaining boroughs of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island.
The proposed local law places some requirements on how the pilot program is structured. Neighborhoods that lack access to existing bike-share programs will be given priority in determining the geographic boundaries of the pilot program. Companies that receive permits will be required to meet operating rules, such as providing accessible scooter options.
It’s not clear how many companies will be issued permits or if there will be restrictions on the number of scooters in each fleet. Jones over at Lime said that “successful scooter programs strike a careful balance that allows for competition between a handful of operators, but not so many as it becomes oversaturated and unruly.”
In Lime’s view, a successful scooter program will allow for demand to dictate fleet size, include service zones in denser communities with nearby transit options, ensure the zones are expansive enough to connect residential and commercial districts, guarantee access for lower-income neighborhoods as well as provide and capitalize on its unprecedented growth of the bike lane network, Jones added.
The committee on transportation and full council is also expected to discuss and possibly approve rules about private use of electric bikes and scooters. One proposed law would allow for privately owned scooter use in Manhattan. Shared scooters are prohibited in Manhattan in accordance with state law.
Segway’s story can’t be told without rehashing its entry onto the scene as one of the most hyped tech products of the early 21st century. Alternately codenamed “Ginger” and “IT,” the personal mobility device engendered serious conversations among futurists about the ways in which it would transform sidewalks and cities.
Nearly 20 years after its initial release, however, the two-wheeled Segway PT is done. Parent company Ninebot is ceasing production of Dean Kamen’s best-known invention, as it lays off 21 employees at its New Hampshire plant who worked on the project. As is so often the case, things didn’t go as expected.
Along the way, the Segway found some love among tour guides and cops. Certainly everyone’s favorite Kevin James film wouldn’t have been the same without it. Ultimately, the company sold about 140,000 models over the two-decade life of the product, making it, at best, a personal mobility niche.
In April 2015, the company was acquired by Ninebot. The Chinese robotics startup has continued to make all manner of personal transport devices, from standard kick scooters to an egg-shaped seated mobility product unveiled at CES. Kamen, meanwhile, has moved on to other things. Just last week it was revealed that he’s been working on engineering human organs from cells — a potentially far more transformative innovation than a self-balancing scooter.
“It was a great invention 20 years ago,” Segway VP Tony Ho told CNN. “Now it seems a bit outdated.” The executive adds that the PT currently accounts for around 1.5% of Ninebot’s total revenue.
The product was born out of Kamen’s work on self-balancing wheelchairs. At its launch, it gained praise from many tech luminaries, including Steve Jobs, who was particularly taken with the invention. It made some memorable headlines in the intervening years, including the death of British entrepreneur Jimi Heselden, whose own Segway veered off a cliff months after purchasing the company from Kamen.
Depending on who you ask, the Segway PT is a cautionary tale about the tech hype cycle or an innovative product that was just too beautiful for this world. Whatever the case, it certainly left its mark.
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Hi friends and first-time readers. Welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.
Let’s get straight to it this week.
Remember please reach out and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.
Micromobbin’ is typically the scooting ground of Megan Rose Dickey. This week, you’ll have to deal with me.
A few micromobility stories got my attention this week largely because they bring up two themes that have developed in 2020: consolidation and the development and deployment of technology aimed at solving challenges with unit economics, regulations and market share.
First up is Bird, which launched a new standalone app called Bird Maps, in Paris and Tel Aviv. Bird Maps, which was created using navigation software from Israeli startup Trailze, will provide turn-by-turn navigation for riders who want to use bike or micromobility lanes for their entire trip. The app is a just a pilot for now. But it could stick around and become available in other cities if it succeeds in attracting more customers and placating cities that are sick of the chaos and sidewalk congestion caused by the misuse of scooters.
Speaking of scooter chaos, micromobility docking startup Swiftmile and remote-controlled scooter repositioning startup Tortoise have partnered to solve two pain points: sidewalk congestion and keeping devices charged.
Swiftmile and Tortoise share many of the same customers. The idea is for Tortoise’s repositioning tech to be used to direct scooters (from companies it has deals with) to a Swiftmile docking station. The system could keep scooters on roads longer and in better shape (they tend to suffer more wear and tear when companies rely on gig workers to charge the products). It could also ease tensions with cities seeking a solution to the unsightly scene of discarded scooters littering sidewalks.
One more tech-centric story worth mentioning is about Bolt Mobility, a company I’ve become more interested in because of how they’ve tweaked their business model. The startup was co-founded by Olympic gold medalist sprinter Usain Bolt and is now led by Julia Steyn, who was formerly the CEO of GM’s now defunct car-sharing service Maven.
Bolt recently expanded to Japan and New York City. This week, it relaunched in Portland with Bolt One, a scooter equipped with front-facing footrests, dual brakes, 10-inch wheels, LED lights and swappable batteries with 25 miles of range.
Two items popped out at me. First, the company has installed NanoSeptic surfaces to its handlebars and brake levers, the two main contact points on a scooter. NanoSeptic has self-cleaning technology that is activated by light to rid surfaces of germs and bacteria, the company told TechCrunch.
And in Portland, it is partnering with local entrepreneur Timothy Robinson to run its local operations. Robinson will employ a local team to rebalance, recharge and when necessary, repair scooters to ensure availability all around the city.
Bolt Mobility tells me that partnering with a local business owner is a new approach. “With their local knowledge, we believe they can best serve cities and their unique transportation needs,” the company told me in an email.
Finally, we turn to Jump, which Uber offloaded to Lime as part of a complex fundraising deal. You might remember that Uber sent thousands of Jump bikes and scooters in the U.S. to the scrap yard for recycling. The word from several sources was that Lime would only accept unused Jump bikes.
Attention then turned to Europe and industry watchers and competitors waited to see if Jump bikes in those markets would suffer the same fate. This week, Lime closed the acquisition of Uber’s micromobility subsidiary Jump in Europe. And as we saw in the U.S. Jump bikes and scooters have disappeared from the streets of London, Paris, Brussels, Rome and other European cities.
Jump bikes and scooters are now sitting in warehouses, waiting for Lime to either redeploy or trash them.
COVID-19 might be the thread that runs through every business trend in 2020. Half way through the year, one theme is the belief that delivery is worth betting on in the near and long term.
Take DoorDash, the popular American food delivery company and my deal of the week. The company raised about $400 million in a Series H round at a valuation slightly under the $16 billion mark. The round had been expected, although it’s worth noting that the final valuation of the deal came in $1 billion higher than earlier reports had indicated.
DoorDash has aggressively raised capital throughout its life, including a huge Series G in late 2019 that valued it near $13 billion. Lest you forget, the company privately filed to go public earlier this year. Those plans were pushed back likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic uncertainty that it continues to spread.
The question is then, where does DoorDash go from here? The company is at war with the Uber Eats service, the Postmates delivery service and the Grubhub-Just Eat Takeaway hybrid. It’s also facing a legal battle with San Francisco. The SF district attorney initiated a lawsuit against DoorDash on June 16 over allegations that it illegally misclassified employees as independent contractors. Comments from SF DA Chesa Boudin suggests the city is ready for a protracted fight.
“I assure you this is just the first step among many to fight for worker safety and equal enforcement of the law,” Boudin tweeted this week.
That means capital requirements are not fading away anytime soon. Nor is the ever looming threat — or opportunity, depending on where you sit — of consolidation.
We know that Uber, still smarting from its failed deal to buy Grubhub, is itching to expand the market share of its Eats food delivery business. Uber has stated that consolidation, in its view, is a path to profitability. It also said it “that doesn’t mean we are interested in doing any deal, at any price, with any player.”
DoorDash, loaded with a fresh injection of capital, could bypass private investors and a merger play and opt for door No. 3: public markets. Companies like Nikola Motor and Vroom recently made the leap despite weak economics in their core businesses.
Other deals that got our attention …
Mapillary, the startup that has developed a street-level imagery platform that uses computer vision to automate and scale mapping, has been acquired by Facebook. Mapillary team and project will become part of Facebook’s broader open mapping efforts, TechCrunch’s Steve O’Hear reported. I’ve been following Mapillary because of how its platform could be used in the transportation sector, specifically in the development of autonomous vehicles. Jan Erik Solem, the founder of Mapillary is on a bit of a roll. Solem launched Mapillary in 2014 after selling his first computer vision company to Apple. You can read more about the company in this blog post from Solem.
SuperAnnotate is an interesting little startup that launched in February. The company, which just raised $3 million in seed funding, developed an image annotation platform for labeling teams and data scientists. Basically, it has created a toolkit for manual labeling, a simple communication system, recognition improvement, image status tracking, templates, dashboards and other essential tools. SuperAnnotate is one of those “picks and shovels” companies, a term I use to describe businesses that are poised to make big bucks providing tools for the autonomous vehicle industry. But this platform has applications beyond AVs and can also be used in robotics, retail, satellite imagery, security, and medical imaging.
Splyt, a UK-based company that developed software to simplify ride hailing, raised $19.5 million in a round led by SoftBank. Splyt has raised a total of $35 million.
Volkswagen invested another $200 million into QuantumScape, a Stanford University spinout developing solid-state batteries as the automaker bets on a next-generation technology that will unlock longer ranges and faster charging times in electric vehicles.
Israeli startup CENS, which developed nanotechnology to improve the
performance of batteries used in electric vehicles, drones and solar energy storage plants, raised $1.5 million in a round led by the UK based investor Vincent Tchenguiz at Consensus Group.
The City of Fort Worth approved a $68.9 million economic incentive package for Linear Labs, a startup developing an electric motor for cars, scooters, robots, wind turbines and even HVAC systems. The company is planning to secure a 500,000-square-foot facility for its research and production center that will manufacture electric motors. The four-year-old company was founded by Brad and Fred Hunstable, who say they have invented a lighter, more flexible electric motor. The pair came up with the motor they’ve dubbed the Hunstable Electric Turbine (HET) while working to design a device that could pump clean water and provide power for small communities in underdeveloped regions of the world.
BYD Co., the Chinese auto giant backed by Warren Buffett, secured 800 million yuan ($113 million) in a Series A+ round for its chipmaking arm, BYD Semiconductor.
GoFor Industries, a Canadian startup that developed an on-demand last-mile delivery service for the construction industry, has raised C$9.8 million in seed funding.
Dumpling, a startup based in Seattle and Berkeley, Calif., raised $6.5 million in Series A funding round led by Forerunner Ventures. The startup helps users launch and run independent grocery shopping and delivery businesses.
Bitauto Holdings Ltd., the Chinese car comparison website, agreed to be taken private by an investor group backed by gaming and social media firm Tencent Holdings for $1.1 billion in cash, per Reuters.
TriEye, an Israeli startup that’s working on a sensor technology to help vehicle driver-assistance and self-driving systems see better in poor weather conditions, announced a collaboration with DENSO to evaluate its CMOS-based Short-Wave Infrared camera called Sparrow. Porsche, which took a minority stake in TriEye last year, is also evaluating the Sparrow camera.
This is more of an infrastructure play, but interesting nonetheless. ECOncrete, an Israeli startup that has developed eco-friendly concrete technology used in the construction of breakwaters, seawalls and piers, raised $5 million in a round led by Bridges Israel. Technology investment house Goldacre also participated in the round. ECOncrete part of the company’s RElab 2020 PropTech cohort — its accelerator program.
And under the “lol” category …
Hertz, which filed for bankruptcy last month, halted its $500 million stock offering after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission told the rental company it would review its controversial plan to sell shares that could soon be wiped out completely. I am shocked I tell you. Shocked.
Hertz had planned to issue a $500 million stock offering following approval from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware . Last week, the court gave Hertz permission to sell up to 246.8 million unissued shares (about $1 billion) to Jefferies LLC.
Before we get to the layoffs, it’s worth noting the end of what was supposed to be a long-term alliance between BMW and Mercedes Benz AG to develop next generation automated driving technology.
The agreement was announced just 11 months ago. And now, it’s kaput. The German automakers called the break up “mutual and amicable” and have each agreed to concentrate on their existing development paths. Those new paths may include working with new or current partners.
The partnership was never meant to be exclusive. But it was interesting because it reflected the increasingly common approach among legacy manufacturers to form loose development agreements in an aim to share the capitally intensive work of developing, testing and validating automated driving technology.
BMW also announced it will cut 6,000 jobs in an agreement reached with the German Works Council. The cuts, prompted by sluggish sales caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, will be reportedly accomplished through early retirement, non-renewal of temporary contracts, ending redundant positions and not filling vacant positions, Marketwatch reported.
Grab, Southeast Asia’s largest ride-hailing startup is laying off about 360 people, or slightly less than 5% of its employees. A Grab spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company will not be shutting down offices, and that this is the last organization-wide layoff the company will perform this year. Grab will sunset some “non-core projects,” consolidate functions and reduce team sizes. It is also reallocating more resources to its on-demand delivery verticals.
Volvo Group is cutting 4,100 white-collar jobs globally and about 15% of the cuts will be contractors, per Freight Waves.
Layoffs.fyi has launched a severance tracker. The site said that of the 500 startups with layoffs, 10 of them offered more than 8 weeks of severance pay and more than 4 months of extended healthcare coverage.
We hear and see things, but we’re not selfish. We share!
I wandered over to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website and this popped up. It appears that autonomous vehicle technology company Aurora has filed for a USDOT number from the FMCSA. This caught my eye because for companies to operate commercial vehicles that haul freight along interstates, they must be registered with the FMCSA and must have a USDOT Number.
It doesn’t appear that Aurora has received authorization yet, according to the filing. This should be viewed as a first step and illustrates Aurora’s previously stated intentions to develop technology for self-driving trucks.
Lots to cover here …
Uber said it will manage an on-demand service for Marin County in the San Francisco Bay area with a Software as a Service product as part of the ride-hailing company’s broader strategy to push into public transit.
Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) will pay Uber a subscription fee to use its management software to facilitate requesting, matching and tracking of its high-occupancy vehicle fleet, starting with a service that operates along the Highway 101 corridor. Marin Transit trips will show up in the Uber app and let users book and even share rides.
This is notable because the deal marks the first SaaS partnership for Uber and a likely pathway moving forward. Remember that Uber recently offloaded its micromobility unit Jump in a deal with Lime and has reshaped its strategy since the COVID-19 pandemic. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said during the company’s last earnings call that the company is focused on growing Eats, its food delivery business, as well as public transit.
Ford will start offering a hands-free driving feature in the second half 2021, beginning with its new Mustang Mach-E electric vehicle. The hands-free feature, called Active Drive Assist, is part of a larger package of advanced driver assistance features collectively called Ford Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0 Prep Package. The hands-free feature has been anticipated since the Mustang Mach-E, which has a driving monitoring system situated above the steering wheel, was revealed last year.
National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration introduced this week the Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing, or AV TEST Initiative. Those testing automated vehicles can now voluntarily submit information to NHTSA. The announcement included nine companies and eight states that have signed on as the first participants.
Lucid Motors will begin producing its luxury electric vehicle for customers at its new Arizona factory in early 2021, about three months later than expected due to a slowdown caused by COVID-19.
The company, which plans to unveil a production version of the Lucid Air in an online event scheduled for September 9, said construction resumed several weeks ago at its factory in Casa Grande, Arizona, and is on target to complete phase one this year. Lucid Motors has also restarted vehicle development work at its California facility, which was briefly delayed due to shelter-in-place orders.
Lyft said that every car, truck and SUV on its platform will be all-electric or powered by another zero-emission technology by 2030, a commitment that will require the company to coax drivers to shift away from gas-powered vehicles. It’s important to note that after a bit of waffling, Lyft finally answered my question and confirmed that it won’t prohibit drivers on its platform from driving a gas-powered vehicle. The company told me they didn’t think that step was necessary.
The target, which Lyft plans to pursue with help from the Environmental Defense Fund and other partners, will stretch across multiple programs. It will include the company’s autonomous vehicles, the Express Drive rental car partner program for rideshare drivers, consumer rental cars for riders and personal cars that drivers use on the Lyft app. That personal car category will be the tricky one.
MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics and the Toyota Collaborative Safety Research Center released DriveSeg, a new open dataset intended to help accelerate autonomous driving research. The dataset contains pixel-level representations through the lens of a continuous driving scene — allowing researchers to identify more amorphous objects that do not always have uniform shapes. It’s free and can be used by researchers and the academic community for non-commercial purposes.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced plans to bring a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill called the Moving Forward Act. The bulk of proposed bill, which Pelosi said will be introduced before the July 4 recess, stems from Democrat-led legislation currently making its way through the House that would authorize $494 million to be spent over five years on roads, bridges and transit programs. It also includes $25 billion for drinking water, $100 billion for broadband, $70 billion for clean energy projects, $100 billion for low income schools, $30 billion to upgrade hospitals, $100 billion in funding for public housing and $25 billion for the postal service, The Hill reported.
Motor Trend has a great piece on the experience of the Black motorist and how that has and has not evolved since the Jim Crow era.
GM released a timeline to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of its GM Research and Development department. It’s a fun ride down memory lane and includes the 1964 Electrovair, which was developed to test the viability of electric power for passenger cars.
The economic lockdown resulting from the coronavirus pandemic has had an immediate negative impact on renewable energy projects and electric vehicles sales, but the sustainable trends are still in place and may even be strengthened over the longer term.
For the first time in four decades, global installation of solar, wind and other renewable energy will be less than the previous year, according to the International Energy Agency, which is projecting a 13% reduction in installations in 2020 compared to 2019. Woods Mackenzie projects an 18% reduction for global solar installations in 2020. Morgan Stanley is projecting declines in U.S. solar PV installations from 48% in second quarter to 17% in the fourth quarter of 2020.
This is due to a combination of construction delays, supply chain disruptions and a capital crunch.
Installation of rooftop solar has been hit particularly hard. Access to homes and businesses was generally halted in March 2020 for several months. Installers have indicated that as much as half the workforce had to be furloughed. The supply chain was also disrupted as PV manufacturing in China was temporarily suspended. Installations and the supply chain will resume, and most contracts are still in place, but the robust projected growth in rooftop PV for 2020 will not be met, and it may take more than a year to catch up. Also, some businesses that planned installations may have higher priorities for cash and investment now as they reopen. Many of the small businesses planning solar installations may not return at all.
On the other hand, utility scale electricity generation from renewable energy continues to grow and take market share. In the first part of this year, renewable energy has produced more electricity than coal for the first time since the late 19th century, when hydropower started the power industry. Wind and solar are the cheapest alternatives for new electric generation in the U.S. The pandemic and collapse in oil prices will not change that. The closure of coal plants has been accelerating this year, and wind and solar will continue to be competitive with gas.
Furthermore, most solar and wind farms were already financed and construction underway in rural areas not affected by the lockdown. About 30 GW of new solar capacity have already been contracted, and as long as interest rates remain low, financing should not be a problem. In fact, many solar and wind projects in the U.S and China are rushing to completion this year to qualify for government incentives.
But supply chains for utility scale renewables were still disrupted. Solar panel manufacturing in China was halted during the first quarter and has now reopened, but facing reduced orders. At one point, 18 wind turbine manufacturing facilities in Spain and Italy were stopped while social distancing and sanitation measures were put in place. Mining operations in Africa and other countries were also temporarily halted and now face reduced demand.
The replacement of oil and gas electricity generation with renewables in developing countries is not going to seem as attractive as a few years ago. Emerging economies need to expand electricity as cheaply as possible, which means coal, gas and even diesel plants. New fossil fuel plants in developing nations could lock in carbon emissions for years.
Electric vehicle sales globally have also been severely impacted. The transition to electric vehicles takes place as people purchase new vehicles. The price of oil has collapsed, used-car prices are dropping and unemployment has soared to levels not seen since the Great Depression. Cheap gas, cheap cars and high unemployment will dramatically lower the expectations for multipassenger EV sales in 2020. Wood Mackenzie has projected a 43% global decline in EV sales in 2020 from 2019. Furthermore, many new electric models from the automakers are not expected until 2021.
However, the long-term transition to EVs will continue and may even accelerate. It still costs less to drive a mile on electricity compared to gasoline, and when the upfront cost of electric vehicles becomes competitive with internal combustion vehicles in a few years, the market should quickly move to EVs. Now that the battery range is adequate for the average driver, the last barrier seems to be the availability of fast charging stations between cities.
Before the collapse in oil demand this year, the oil majors were expecting peak oil demand to occur sometime during the 2040s. Now peak oil demand is expected earlier, perhaps in the mid-2020s. Some even think that 2019 might turn out to be the highest level of oil consumption historically. At any rate, it seems that it will be at least a few years until the 2019 levels are reached again, if ever.
However, the recent collapse in oil prices means the oil and gas industry will be able to supply fuel at very competitive prices for decades. This will at least make it more difficult for electric vehicles to take market share in the short term, and very difficult for alternative liquid fuels to be competitive. For biofuels and synthetic fuels, it seems to be a repeat of earlier decades when cheap oil crushed those industries. Replacing gas and diesel-powered cars is certainly going to be unattractive in the impoverished economies of developing nations.
But there are also bright spots for clean transportation alternatives emerging. Electric bicycles, for example, are a hot item. As people look for alternatives to mass transit and want something to move outdoors in the fresh air, electric-assisted bikes are a great solution and are no longer looked down upon as a vehicle for older (or lazy) cyclists.
Telecommuting struggled for years to take hold, but the pandemic seems to have finally changed that. The recent national lockdown has spurred many large businesses to set up their employees to work from home. They have found that it works fairly well, and many will not return to packed downtown offices.
Several experts have cited the potential for cleaner energy alternatives because the public is seeing cleaner air and the environmental benefits of a 30% reduction in daily oil consumption. Some consumer surveys have indicated a greater interest in electric vehicles.
There is certainly the hope that we will take the opportunity to revive the economy with cleaner technologies than before the lockdown. However, the reality is that workers and businesses need to start up again with the infrastructure they have, and investment in cleaner technology requires capital. Since many business operations are struggling to find cash and loans to just remain open, new clean technology may be delayed.
Yet the major infrastructure changes for a sustainable future are well underway. Solar and wind are rapidly replacing fossil fuels for electricity. Automakers and governments are committed to electrification of the transportation sector. The pandemic may be a near-term obstacle, but the transition to a sustainable economy is just delayed and may even be accelerated in the coming years.