Hot Wheels will ship you a Cybertruck long before Tesla is likely to make any deliveries on their electric retro-future wheeled trapezoid: The toy maker just unveiled two different RC Cybertruck models, including a 1:64 scale model at just $20, and a much larger 1:10 scale version for $400.
These are available to pre-order now, but like most of Tesla’s cars, just because they’re introduced doesn’t mean you can go out and buy one immediately. They’re set to ship in time for the holidays, however, with a December 15, 2020 estimated availability date, according to the Hot Wheels website.
These look like very faithful representations of the Cybertruck that Tesla unveiled at a special event back in November, and the large version includes a “reusable cracked window vinyl sticker” that you can use to recreate the onstage flub that happened at the actual reveal. You’ll have to supply your own large metal medicine ball.
Other features of the 1:10 scale Cybertruck include functioning headlights and taillights, all-wheel drive, true to form “Chill” and “Sport” modes, a removable tonneau cover, a working telescopic tailgate and more.
The smaller and much more affordable version is just three inches long, which is basically what you’d expect from a traditional Hot Wheels mini model, and it can achieve an “up to 500mph scale speed,” which someone who is better than me at math can figure out what that translates to.
These are available to people in the U.S. and Canada, but I expect them to be pretty hot sellers based on the general fervor and interest around all things Cybertruck to date.
Electriphi, a provider of charging management and fleet monitoring software for electric vehicles, has joined the scrum of startups looking to provide services to the growing number of electric vehicle fleets in the U.S.
The San Francisco-based company has just raised $3.5 million in seed funding from investors including Wireframe Ventures, the Urban Innovation Fund, and Blackhorn Ventures. Lemnos Labs and Acario Innovation also participated in the round.
Electriphi’s pitch has resonated with school districts. It counts the Twin Rivers Unified School District in Sacramento, Calif. as one of its benchmark customers.
“Twin Rivers Unified School District has the largest fleet of electric school buses in North America, and our ambition is to transition to a fully electric fleet in the coming years,” said Tim Shannon, transportation services director, Twin Rivers Unified School District, in a statement. “This is a significant undertaking, and we needed a trusted partner that could provide us state-of-the-art charging management and help us with data collection and monitoring.”
There are several companies pursuing this market — all with either a bit of a head start, significant corporate backers, or more capital. Existing offerings from EVConnect, GreenLots, GreenFlux, AmplyPower all compete with Electriphi.
The company is betting that the experience of co-founder, Muffi Ghadiali, a former senior director at ChargePoint who led hardware and software development for fast charging infrastructure, can sway customers. Joining Ghadiali is Sanjay Dayal, who previously worked at Agralogics, Tibco, Xamplify, Versata and Sybase .
There’s also the sheer scale of the opportunity, which is likely to see multiple companies emerge as winners.
“There are millions of public and commercial fleet vehicles in the U.S. alone that we rely on daily for transportation, delivery and services, ” said Paul Straub, managing partner, Wireframe Ventures. “Many of these are beginning to consider electrification and the opportunity is tremendous.”
Several companies rolled out electric pickups in 2019. Tesla’s Cybertruck got most of the attention, but don’t sleep on General Motors and Ford — bringing electric pickups to market is critical for the viability of electric vehicles.
Automakers build vehicles around shared components. These platforms, the underpinnings of the vehicles, often live for 10 or more years, and are critical to each automaker’s economic stability. The exterior sheet metal might change, but dozens of models often share the frame, powertrain and electrical components.
Electric pickup platforms offer vehicle makers a new revenue source. Instead of building electric vehicles designed to move people, these platforms can move goods. That’s key to building a long-term strategy around electric vehicles.
Look at Ford, whose best-selling F-150 is just a portion of its success. From the F-150, the automaker has dozens of commercial vehicles built off platforms that share components. If Ford can produce an electric pickup — which it says it’s doing alongside startup Rivian — Ford will be able to electrify its commercial offering more quickly.
Specific vehicle platforms are perfect for electrification. Vehicles with a predictable driving route like municipal vehicles, delivery vans and even hearses could benefit from electric powertrains.
Electric powertrains have long offered advantages over internal combustion; electric counterparts feature fewer moving parts and are now often smaller, allowing for more interior space. And then there’s the torque that gives electric vehicles near-superhero strength.
Tesla’s Model 3 is among the top 10 choices for car buyers in 2020, according to Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization released its “Top Picks” of the year on Thursday, and it included Tesla’s most affordable vehicle alongside cars from automakers including Toyota, Subaru, Honda, Kia and Lexus.
The Model 3 was chosen as one of three vehicles in the $45K-$55K category, alongside the Lexus RX and the Toyota Supra. CR lauded its “thrilling driving experience,” including “impressive handling and quick precise steering [that] help it feel like a sports car.” They did ding it slightly for having a “stiff ride” overall, but said that that’s more than made up for by its long EV battery range and emission-free eco-friendly qualities.
Consumer Reports also specifically called out a worry about the Model 3 that “Autopilot, an optional system on the vehicle, does not require the driver to stay engaged, creating safety concerns.” Tesla has always positioned Autopilot as a driver-assist feature that still requires a driver to be ready to take over control at a moment’s notice, but critics have suggested its implementation can lead to misuse resulting in inattentiveness.
Clearly, that concern wasn’t enough to prevent CR from counting the Model 3 among its top recommendations for vehicles in 2020. Tesla also ended up ranking 11th overall out of 33 automakers in Consumer Reports’ 2020 automotive brand report card, climbing eight positions from last year. The Model 3, and the rapid improvements that Tesla was able to make in its production as it scaled assembly of the vehicle, clearly helped it in the eyes of the consumer-focused nonprofit.
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.
This is the first Equity Shot in what feels like a long time, so, let me explain. Most of the time Equity comes out on Friday. It’s a mix of news and chat and venture happenings. It’s fun! But sometimes, a topic comes up that demands more immediate attention. That’s what happened today as we stared at Tesla’s share price wondering what in the hell was going on.
Shares of the electric car company are surging — again — today, pushing ever-closer to the $1,000 per-share mark. So, Danny, myself and Chris on the turntables got together to riff and chat about what is going on.
For those of you who want some links, here you go:
Today was all about fun. The main, more serious (kinda) show is back Friday. Stay cool!
California-based mobility startup Zero Motorcycles has a new e-moto in its lineup — the fully-faired SR/S, unveiled today in New York.
The company’s CEO Sam Paschel pulled the cover off the two-wheeled EV, which is based on the platform of the company’s SR/F, released last year.
The new SR/S has similar stats to the SR/F: a 124-mph top-speed, up to 200 miles of range, 140 ft-lbs of torque and charge-time of 60 minutes to 95%, Paschel told TechCrunch at the debut.
Zero’s latest EV is an IoT motorcycle and manages overall performance — including engine output and handling characteristics — through digital riding modes.
The major differences on the SR/S over the SR/F are the addition of the full-fairing, a more relaxed riding position (through re-positioning of the bars and pegs) and a 13% improvement in highway range, from improved aerodynamics.
The fairing brings around 20 pounds more weight to to the SR/S over the 485-pound SR/F.
On price, the base version of the SR/S is $19,995 — a dash over the SR/F’s $19,495 — and a premium SR/S (with a higher charging capacity) comes in at $21,995.
The SR/S starts shipping today to Zero’s global dealer network, which stands at 91 in the U.S. and 200 globally — the largest for any e-motorcycle company, according to Paschel.
He positioned the SR/S as more of a sport-touring machine than the the SR/F, which has a naked-bike set up that includes a more aggressive riding position and less aerodynamics on the highway.
Zero’s latest entries — the SR/F and the SR/S — come at a time when startups are pushing the motorcycle industry toward electric, though it’s not evident there’s enough demand to buy up all the new models.
The American motorcycle market has been stagnant for over a decade and is becoming crowded with EV offerings. New motorcycle sales in the U.S. dropped by roughly 50% since 2008 — with sharp declines in ownership by everyone under 40 — and have never recovered, according to Motorcycle Industry Council stats.
In a bid to revive sales and the interest of younger riders, in 2019 Harley-Davidson became the first of the big gas manufacturers to offer a street-legal e-moto for sale in the U.S. — the LiveWire — which is a forerunner to an HD product-line of electric-powered two-wheelers.
Harley-Davidson’s EV debut, the LiveWire
Harley’s entry followed several failed electric motorcycle startups — Alta Motors, Mission Motors and Brammo — and put HD in the market with existing EV ventures, such as Zero.
That list is growing.
High-performance Italian EV company Energica has expanded marketing and sales in the U.S., along with Cake — a Swedish e-moto maker. This year should also see e-moto debuts by California-based Lightning Motorcycles and Fuell, a French and American-founded company with plans to release the $10,000, 150-mile range Flow.
Zero appears to have created an edge up on Harley’s LiveWire — coming in at $10,000 less than the $29,799 HD — though it’s hard to know how they stacked up against each other in 2019 since e-moto sales stats aren’t reliably tallied in the U.S.
Zero doesn’t release their sales numbers (though I tried my darnedest to pry them out of CEO Sam Paschel).
That price advantage over Harley’s LiveWire will carry over on Zero’s new SR/S, which could find its biggest competitor in the anticipated release of Damon’s Hypersport.
The Vancouver e-moto startup plans to go to market with its 200-mph e-motorcycle debut. The $24,995 Hypersport is targeted toward Tesla owners and brings proprietary digital safety technology and adjustable ergonomics that are absent in Zero’s offerings — and pretty much anything else on the motorcycle market.
Time, burn rate and sales will tell which companies can find market-traction and turn a profit across all these new e-moto offerings.
Zero doesn’t divulge financials, but among the startups, they could be furthest along. The company, with $120 million in VC in its rear-mirrors — per Crunchbase — has no plans to raise more, according to Paschel.
“We don’t need it,” he told TechCrunch, adding that the venture’s biggest challenge in 2019 was keeping production up to speed with buyer demand for their SR/F.
Zero is likely hoping for that good kind of a problem with its new SR/S in 2020.
The 400,000 distribution yards located in the U.S. are critical hubs for the supply chain. Now one startup is aiming to make the yard truck — the centerpiece of the distribution yard — more efficient, safer and cleaner, with an autonomous system.
Outrider, a Golden, Colo. startup previously known as Azevtec, came out of stealth Wednesday to announce that it has raised $53 million in seed and Series A funding rounds led by NEA and 8VC. Outrider is also backed by Koch Disruptive Technologies, Fraser McCombs Capital, warehousing giant Prologis, Schematic Ventures, Loup Ventures and Goose Society of Texas.
Outrider CEO Andrew Smith said distribution yards are ideal environments to deploy autonomous technology because they’re well-defined areas that are also complex, often chaotic and with many manual tasks.
“This is why a systems approach is necessary to automate every major task in the yard,” Smith said.
Outrider has developed a system that includes an electric yard truck equipped with a full stack self-driving system with overlapping suite of sensor technology such as radar, lidar and cameras. The system automates the manual aspect of yard operations, including moving trailers around the yard as well as to and from loading docks. The system can also hitch and unhitch trailers, connect and disconnect trailer brake lines, and monitor trailer locations.
The company has two pilot programs with Georgia-Pacific and four Fortune 200 companies in designated sections of their distribution yards. Over time, Outrider will move from operating in specific areas of these yards to taking over the entire yards for these enterprise customers, according to Smith.
“Because we’re getting people out of these yard environments, where there’s 80,000 pound vehicles, we’re delivering increased efficiency,” Smith told TechCrunch in a recent interview. That efficiency is not just in moving the trailers around the yard, Smith added. It also helps move the Class 8 semi trailers used for hauling freight long distances through the system and back on the road quickly.
“We can actually reduce the amount of time the over-the-road guys are stuck sitting at a yard trying to do a pickup or drop-off,” Smith said.
Smith sees a big opportunity to demonstrate the responsible deployment of autonomy as well as clean up yards filled with diesel-powered yard trucks.
“If there was ever a location for near-term automation and electrification of the supply chain, it’s here,” he said. “Our customers and suppliers understand there’s a big opportunity for these autonomy systems to accelerate the deployment of 50,000 plus electric trucks in the market because they are a superior platform for automation.”
Jaguar Land Rover has introduced a new concept vehicle that cuts a very different figure relative to its usual fare: It’s a four-wheeled electric urban mobility concept called ‘Project Vector’ that looks more like a low-floored airport shuttle train car than a traditional car.
This is a look that’s increasingly become popular among automakers designing for a future in which shared electric autonomous mobility plays a big role: Cruise, for instance, debuted a very similar looking long rectangle of a vehicle in January, with the crucial difference that its vehicle is a production model instead of just a concept.
Externally, JLR’s Vector concept looks very similar, with a front and end that could easily pass for one another, as well as sliding doors that open from the middle to allow the maximum amount of space for entry and exit. The floor is low to the ground to similarly accommodate easy onboarding and disembarkation, and that same floor houses the battery and drivetrain that make the vehicle go.
Unlike Cruise’s strictly driverless design, however, the Jaguar vehicle features front-facing seats and a steering wheel for human control, though the interior is also “configurable” to eventually allow autonomous use, and to also offer flexibility for accommodating goods delivery as well as passenger transportation.
Jaguar Land Rover’s concept isn’t just the kind to get your noodle churning, either: The company says that it aims to work together with the Coventry City Council and the West Midlands Combined Authority to actually deploy a pilot mobility service using the Vector starting as early as “late 2021,” which it says will act as a “living laboratory for future mobility on the streets of Coventry.”
Most people probably don’t love the idea of hearing their streets will be made into a laboratory, but on the other hand pioneering shared electric transportation that more closely resembles public transit than traditional ride-hailing is likely a good thing.
The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.
Hello again — or perhaps for the first time. This is Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch and your host here at The Station. This weekly newsletter will also be posted as an article after the weekend — that’s what you’re reading now. To get it first, subscribe for free. Please note that there will not be a newsletter February 22.
It was a drama-filled week with a hearing on the hill in D.C. about autonomous vehicle legislation that got a bit tense at times. Meanwhile, Uber tipped its hat to the past, EV startup Lucid started to lift the veil on its Air vehicle (scroll down for a spy shot!) and micromobility prepared for headwinds in Germany.
Before I ride off into the sunset for my vacation, one reminder for y’all. Don’t forget to reach out and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.
Welcome back to micromobbin’, a regular feature in The Station by reporter Megan Rose Dickey. Before we get into her micromobility insights, a quick note that shared scooters are facing a fight in Germany that has prompted companies to unite over their “shared” cause. (Get it?)
Micromobility vehicles, first legalized in Germany last June, have flooded the marketplace and caused a backlash in cities like Berlin, where at least six apps, including Bird, Circ (now owned by Bird), Lime, Tier, Uber Jump and Voi operate. As the Financial Times first reported, amendments to the country’s Road Traffic Act would give individual cities the power to heavily restrict the areas in which e-scooters can be parked or ban them altogether.
Now back to Dickey’s micromobbin’.
Swiftmile, the startup that wants to become the gas station for electric micromobility vehicles, announced its move into advertising this week. Swiftmile already supplies cities and private operators with docks equipped to park and charge both scooters and e-bikes. Now, the company is starting to integrate digital displays that attach to its charging stations to provide public transit info, traffic alerts and, of course, ads.
“It adds tremendous value because it’s a massive market,” Swiftmile CEO Colin Roche told TechCrunch. “Tons of these corporations want to market to that group but you cannot do that on a scooter, nor should you. So there’s a massive audience that wants to market to that group but also cities like us because we’re bringing order to the chaos.”
Meanwhile, Bird unveiled more details about its loyalty program, called Frequent Flyer. It’s currently in the pilot phase, which means it’s only available in select markets. But the benefits for riding five times in 28 days include no start fees for rides between 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., Monday through Friday and the ability to reserve your Bird in advance for up to 30 minutes at no cost.
— Megan Rose Dickey
We don’t just hear things. We see things too. This week in a little bird — the place where we share insider news, not gossip — I’m going to share two spy shots of a production version of Lucid Motors’ upcoming Air electric vehicle. See below.
The photos of the production version of the Lucid Air were taken during an event hosted for some of the vehicle’s first reservation holders. (I wasn’t there, but luckily some readers of The Station were.) By the way, we also hear that reservations are in the “low four figures.”
You’ll notice that the production version of the Air is nearly identical to the beta version. Unfortunately, we don’t see the interior. But reports suggest it falls in the understated luxury category and without giant screens.
Lucid is preparing for one of the more important moments in its history as a company. The production version of Air will be unveiled in April at the New York Auto Show. In the run-up to the auto show, Lucid is revealing more information about the vehicle, including a recent video that suggested the vehicle had a real-world range of more than 400 miles. Lucid has hit that 400-mile range in simulated testing, but how it operates on the roads is what really matters.
What’s impressive, if those numbers bear out, is that it was accomplished with a 110-kWh battery pack. That’s an improvement from back in 2016 when Lucid said it would need a 130-kWh battery pack to achieve that range. In my past conversations with CEO Peter Rawlinson — and one wild ride with him behind the wheel of an early Air prototype in Vegas — it’s clear he is obsessed with battery efficiency. That apparently hasn’t waned.
Car and Driver, which was at this special event, noted in its report that Rawlinson has a goal to get to five miles per kilowatt-hour. Right now, Tesla can lay claim to the most efficient electric vehicle with the upcoming Model Y at a claimed 4.1 miles per kilowatt-hour.
It got a little prickly on Capitol Hill during a House panel hearing this week that aimed to tackle how best to regulate autonomous vehicles. Watch the hearing to see it all unfold. Here’s a handy link to it.
A quick history lesson: The SELF DRIVE ACT was unanimously passed in 2017 by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. AV START, a complementary bill introduced in the Senate, failed to pass because Democrats said it didn’t go far enough to address safety and liability issues.
A bipartisan group revived efforts to come up with legislation that would address Democrat concerns and give auto manufacturers and AV developers greater freedom to deploy vehicles that lack controls like a steering wheel or pedals, which are currently required by federal law.
There was some level of public agreement between the traditional auto manufacturers and AAJ over the issue of accountability. But there is still a huge divide between organizations like the Consumer Technology Association and safety advocates and trial lawyers over the issue of forced arbitration.
Groups like the American Association for Justice, a group representing trial lawyers, want to ban forced arbitration in any autonomous vehicle bill.
Meanwhile, CTA president and CEO Gary Shapiro submitted testimony that was clearly opposed to limiting the use of arbitration. The CTA argues that arbitration reduces the cost of litigation and provides more timely remedies.
People who were in the room told me they were surprised by how unwavering Shapiro’s comments were, and suggested that it wasn’t in step with how some auto manufacturers view the issue.
Following the hearing, the House Energy and Commerce and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committees circulated seven sections to industry groups covering issues such as crash-data sharing and cybersecurity, according to reporting by Bloomberg Government. There was one missing provision. Any guesses? Yup, the provision dealing with forced arbitration. That has caused some Democrats to abandon the bill.
There are two ways for this bill to survive in this congressional session — by unanimous consent, meaning everyone agrees to it, or by being attached to another bill. The first option is highly unlikely. And the second is just as slim, as there are limited opportunities in the Senate to attach self-driving legislation to another bill.
Two items to mention that illustrate how the world of ride hailing continues to evolve.
First up is Uber. The company is piloting a new feature aimed at older adults that will let customers dial a 1-800 number and speak to an actual human being to hail a ride. The pilot is launching in Arizona, followed by other yet unnamed states. Sounds sort of familiar, doesn’t it?
It’s not quite like calling a taxi dispatcher, though. You’ll still need a phone that can receive SMS or text messages to get information on the driver and their ETA.
Now let’s jump over to Nigeria where new regulations in the country’s commercial center of Lagos are creating some chaos.
Lagos has started to restrict where shared motorcycles, called okadas, can operate. That is affecting motorcycle-taxi businesses like ORide, Max .ng and Gokada.
In a statement via email, ORide’s senior director of Operations, Olalere Ridwan, said the rules entail “a ban on commercial motorcycles…in the city’s core commercial and residential areas, including Victoria Island and Lagos Island.”
The motorcycle taxi limitations have also thrown off Lagos’s disorderly transit grid — overloading other mobility modes (such as mini-buses) and forcing more people to pound pavement and red-dirt to get to work, according to reporter Jake Bright.
I wanted to highlight one of our ONMs, otherwise known as original news manufacturers. Ba dum bump.
Freelancer Mark Harris is back with a scoop on Google’s short-lived Bookbot program and how its death sparked a new and still-in-stealth startup called Cartken.
Bookbot was a robot created within Google’s Area 120 incubator for experimental products. The plan was to pilot an autonomous robot in Mountain View that would pick up library books from users and bring them back to the library. Apparently, it was well received. But it was killed off far before its nine-month pilot was slated to end. Bookbot’s demise followed Google’s decision to scale back efforts to compete with Amazon in shopping.
But Bookbot appears to be back, albeit in a slicker form and with a broader use case than a library book shuttle. Engineers working on Bookbot as well as a logistics expert who was once in charge of operations at Google Express left the company to form Cartken in fall 2019.
Check out Harris’ deep dive into Bookbot, Google’s shift away from shopping and Cartken.
You might have heard or read here in this newsletter that TC Sessions: Mobility is returning for a second year on May 14 in San Jose — a day-long event brimming with the best and brightest engineers, policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs and innovators, all of whom are vying to be a part of this new age of transportation.
Now here’s my discount deal for you. To get 10% off tickets, including early-bird, use code AUTO. The early-bird sale ends April 9. Early-bird tickets are available now for $250 — that’s $100 savings before prices go up. Students can book a ticket for just $50. Book your tickets today.
So far, we’ve announced:
Expect more announcements each week leading up to the May 14th event.
China’s annual auto show in Beijing has been postponed because of novel coronavirus, as the number of cases of people infected surpass 71,000.
The Beijing International Automotive Exhibition, which was scheduled to begin April 21, is the latest high-profile event that has been either cancelled or postponed over concerns of coronavirus. A new date will be announced in the future, organizers said on the official event website.
Earlier this month, MWC canceled its event in Barcelona, which was supposed to take place from February 24 to February 27. Most of the postponed events are in China, where the virus originated and where the vast majority of infections (more than 70,000 to date) have occurred. Coronavirus has also disrupted the automotive industry in China and abroad as many global manufacturers rely on the country’s supply chain for parts.
The Chinese government might delay the annual session of its Communist Party-dominated legislature, The New York Times reported Monday. Other postponed events include Credit Suisse Group AG’s Asia investment conference and the Chinese Grand Prix, a Formula 1 race scheduled for April 19 in Shanghai. Juss Sports Group, the promoter of the Chinese Grand Prix, requested the postponement after ongoing discussions with the Federation of Automobile and Motorcycle Sports of People’s Republic of China (CAMF) and Shanghai Administration of Sports.
Formula E, the all-electric motorsports event, has also postponed a race set for Sanya on March 21.
Americans are saddled with $1.2 trillion in auto loans, according to data collected by the Federal Reserve. And while that debt can be refinanced, even U.S. car owners who know it’s an option face a complicated task.
MotoRefi, a new fintech startup that was born out of QED Investors in 2017, says it has developed an auto refinancing platform that handles the entire process, from rooting out the best rates to paying off the old lender and re-titling the vehicle.
Now, the company is preparing to scale up and bring its platform to the masses, with $8.6 million in capital raised in a Series A funding round co-led by Accomplice and Link Ventures. Motley Fool Ventures, CMFG Ventures (part of CUNA Mutual Group) and Gaingels also participated in the round. The round follows $4.7 million in seed funding that MotoRefi announced in March 2019.
MotoRefi is also gaining two new board members, Rob Chaplinsky, managing director of Link Ventures, and Rachel Holt, former Uber executive and co-founder of a new VC firm, Construct Capital.
Auto loan debt is the same as student loan debt in the U.S., said MotoRefi CEO Kevin Bennett. And yet the majority of car owners don’t know that refinancing their auto loan is even an option, he added. A 2017 Harris Poll found that 47% of Americans were aware they could refinance their auto loan.
“People shop their home loans, while most just get their auto loans from the dealership where they bought their car, so their rates are artificially high,” Bennett said in a recent interview. “Meanwhile, credit unions can be great for auto loans but they might not have the tools to reach consumers.”
That’s where MotoRefi hopes to step in. Bennett said the MotoRefi platform can save customers an average of $100 per month on their car payments.
Holt, who was an early investor in MotoRefi, said during her time at Uber she saw firsthand the amount of auto loans drivers were carrying. Dealerships aren’t making money on selling cars, they’re making it on financing, Holt said. “I saw this problem and so I was looking out for startups trying to solve this problem,” she added.
The U.S. auto refinancing market is about $40 billion, according to TransUnion. But that market could be two to three times that size, according to data shared at TransUnion Financial Services Summit. It’s an opportunity that has prompted companies like Lending Tree to launch auto refinancing products.
MotoRefi is already scaling up by adding new lenders and partners, according to Bennett. The new funding will be used to hire more employees and invest in its technology platform.
The startup also launched in January separate pilot programs with Progressive and Chime. Under these pilots, Progressive and Chime will directly offer refinance options to their customers instead of going through an affiliate program such as Credit Karma — a company backed by QED Investors — or LendingTree.
Tesla has priced its secondary common stock offering at $767, a 4.6% discount from Thursday’s share price close, according to a securities filing Friday.
Tesla said in the filing it will sell 2.65 million shares at that discounted price to raise more than $2 billion. Lead underwriters Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have the option to buy an additional 397,500 shares in the offering.
Tesla shares closed at $804 on Thursday. The share price opened lower Friday, jumped as high at $812.97 and has hovered around $802.
The automaker surprised Wall Street on Thursday when it announced plans to raise more than $2 billion through a common stock offering, despite signaling just two weeks ago that it would not seek to raise more cash.
CEO Elon Musk will purchase up to $10 million in shares in the offering, while Oracle co-founder and Tesla board member Larry Ellison will buy up to $1 million worth of Tesla shares, according to the securities filing.
Tesla said it will use the funds to strengthen its balance sheet and for general corporate purposes. In a separate filing Thursday that was posted prior to the stock offering notice, Tesla said capital expenditures could reach as high as $3.5 billion this year.
The stock offering conflicts with statements Musk and CFO Zach Kirkhorn made last month during Tesla’s fourth-quarter earnings call. An institutional investor asked that given the recent run in the share price, why not raise capital now and substantially accelerate the growth in production? At the time, Musk said the company was spending money sensibly and that there is no “artificial hold back on expenditures.”
At the time of Thursday’s announcement, Tesla shares had risen more than 35% since the January 29 earnings call, perhaps proving too tempting of an opportunity to ignore.
In case you haven’t heard, TC Sessions: Mobility is back for second year. This one-day event, which will be held May 14 in San Jose, promises to feature some of best and brightest engineers, policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs and innovators, all of whom are vying to be a part of this new age of transportation.
Attendees of TC Sessions: Mobility can expect interviews with founders, investors and inventors, demos of the latest tech, breakout sessions, dozens of startup exhibits and opportunities to network and recruit.
We have announced several speakers for the event, including Klaus Zellmer, the president and CEO of Porsche Cars North America, Waymo’s href="https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/08/tc-sessions-mobility-2020-boris-sofman-of-waymo-and-nancy-sun-of-ike/">Boris Sofman, Ike Robotics co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun, Trucks VC general partner Reilly Brennan and Shin-pei Tsay, director of policy, cities and transportation at Uber.
And now we have another star to add to our TC Sessions: Mobility list. TechCrunch is excited to announce that Olaf Sakkers, general partner at Maniv Mobility will be joining us on stage this year. Sakkers is a founding partner at Maniv Mobility, a global fund investing in mobility.
Maniv started out with a focus on transportation and mobility-related startups in Israel, with a few in investments in the U.S. It expanded its mission to the global stage, a move buoyed by a $100 million fund that it closed last July with backing from 12 corporations, including the venture arms of Aptiv, BMW, Hyundai, Lear Corp., LG Electronics, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, Shell and Valeo.
Maniv’s portfolio includes vehicle security company Owlcam, peer-to-peer car-sharing company Turo, teleoperations startup Phantom Auto, autonomous vehicle-focused chipmaker Hailo, shared electric moped company Revel, Spain-based car subscription startup Bipi and in-vehicle software management firm Aurora Labs.
Stay tuned to see who we’ll announce next.
And … $250 Early-Bird tickets are now on sale — save $100 on tickets before prices go up on April 9; book today.
Students, you can grab your tickets for just $50 here.
If you’re an early-stage, mobility startup, make sure you grab an exhibitor package to get your startup in front of today’s leading mobility leaders. Packages come with 4 tickets each and are just $2000. Book yours here.
Tesla said Thursday it plans to raise more than $2 billion through a common stock offering and will use the funds to strengthen its balance sheet and for general corporate purposes, despite signaling just two weeks ago that it would not seek to raise more cash.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk will purchase up to $10 million in shares in the offering, while Oracle co-founder and Tesla board member Larry Ellison will buy up to $1 million worth of Tesla shares, according to the securities filing.
The automaker has also granted underwriters a 30-day option to purchase up to $300 million of additional common stock. If underwriters exercise that option, Tesla could raise as much as $2.3 billion.
The stock offering conflicts with statements Musk and CFO Zach Kirkhorn made last month during Tesla’s fourth-quarter earnings call. An institutional investor asked that given the recent run in the share price, why not raise capital now and substantially accelerate the growth in production? At the time, Musk said the company was spending money sensibly and that there is no “artificial hold back on expenditures.”
“We’re spending money I think efficiently and we’re not artificially limiting our progress,” Musk said dueing the January 29 call. “And then despite all that we are still generating positive cash. So in light of that, it doesn’t make sense to raise money because we expect to generate cash despite this growth level.”
Kirkhorn added to Musk’s comments noting that the company had laid a good foundation and was not holding back on growth.
“We have two products, two vehicle products launching right now and that will consume much of the bandwidth of the company to stabilize those over the course of the year,” Kirkhorn said. “And then looking into next year, we have even more products launching, more factories. So we want to be smart about how we spend money and grow in a way that’s sustainable. So we don’t fall victim to the mistakes I think we made a year and a half or so ago.”
However, Tesla shares have risen more than 35% since the January 29 earnings call, perhaps proving too tempting of an opportunity to ignore.
This latest stock raise could prove critical to fund Tesla’s number of projects. A regulatory filing posted prior to the stock offering notice indicates Tesla’s capital expenditures could reach as high as $3.5 billion this year.
“Considering the expected pace of the manufacturing ramps for our products, construction and expansion of our factories, and pipeline of announced projects under development, and consistent with our current strategy of using partners to manufacture battery cells, as well as considering all other infrastructure growth, we currently expect our average annual capital expenditures in 2020 and the two succeeding fiscal years to be $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion,” Tesla said in its 10K filing, which was posted Thursday.
Uber is piloting a new feature aimed at older adults that will let customers dial a 1-800 number and speak to an actual human being to hail a ride. The move isn’t just a departure from its app roots. It’s another sign that Uber is trying to transform into a transportation company that serves a larger customer base.
The dial-an-Uber feature was “designed with older adults in mind” though anyone preferring conversational support will benefit from this pilot, the company said. The feature was built based on feedback from older adults who told the company that “live conversations, and simplicity of experience can make a difference for their transportation needs,” according to the ride-hailing company.
After dialing 1-833-USE-UBER, the customer will be paired with a live team member that confirms their trip request, provides an upfront price quote.
There are some important caveats to this feature that could shut out folks who don’t own a cellular phone.
Customers still must have a phone that can receive SMS or text-based mobile phone to receive important messages about the ETA of the ride, driver’s license plate details, and the driver’s name. Users will continue to receive messages before and during your trip, and once it concludes, they’ll receive a trip receipt.
The company will initially launch the phone number 1-833-USE-UBER in Arizona. There is no extra charge for using this service, though Uber noted that carrier message and data rates may apply. Anyone in the state can call the phone number to hail an Uber in the cities where the service is currently available. Users can also ask for specific Uber options such as UberX, Uber Comfort, Uber Black, Black SUV, as well as Uber Assist and WAV, where available.
Uber said it will expand the dial-an-Uber to more states in the coming months.
Uber was also explicit that the 1-800 number is not meant for general customer support inquiries, although certainly it will be used for that purpose.
Intuition Robotics, the company best known for its ElliQ robot, a digital home companion for the elderly, today announced that it has raised a $36 million Series B round co-led by SPARX Group and OurCrowd. Toyota AI Ventures, Sompo Holdings, iRobot, Union Tech Ventures, Happiness Capital, Samsung Next, Capital Point and Bloomberg Beta also participated in this round. This brings the total funding for the company, which was founded in 2016, to $58 million.
As the company, which sees it as its mission to build digital assistants that can create emotional bonds between humans and machines, also disclosed today, it is working with Toyota to bring its technology to the automaker’s LQ concept. Toyota previously said that it wanted to bring an empathetic AI assistant to the LQ that could create a bond between driver and car. This assistant, dubbed “Yui,” is powered by Intuition Robotics’ Q platform.
Intuition Robotics CEO and co-founder Dor Skuler tells me that the company spent the last two years gathering data through ElliQ. In the process, the company spent more than 10,000 days in the homes of early users to gather data. The youngest of those users were 78 and the oldest 97.
On average, users interacted with ElliQ eight times per day and spent about six minutes on those interactions. When ElliQ made proactive suggestions, users accepted those about half the time.
“We believe that we have been able to prove that she can create an enduring relationship between humans and machines that actually influences people’s feelings and behaviors,” Skuler told me. “That she’s able to create empathy and trust — and anticipate the needs of the users. And that, to us, is the real vision behind the company.”
While Intuition Robotics is most closely identified with ElliQ, though, that’s only one area the company is focusing on. The other is automotive — and as Skuler stressed, as a small startup, focus is key, even as there are some other obvious verticals it could try to get into.
In the car, the empathetic AI assistant will adapt to the individual user and, for example, provide personalized suggestions for trying out new features in the car, or suggest that you open the window and get some fresh air into the car when it senses you are getting tired. As Skuler stressed, the car is actually a great environment for a digital assistant, as it already has plenty of built-in sensors.
“The agent gets the data feed, builds context, looks at the goals and answers three questions: Should I be proactive? Which activity should I promote? And which version to be most effective? And then it controls the outcomes,” Skuler explained. That’s the same process in the car as it would be in ElliQ — and indeed, the same code runs in both.
The Intuition team decided that in order to allow third-parties to build these interactions, it needed to develop specialized tools and a new language that would help designers — not programmers — create the outlines of these interactions for the platform.
Unlike ElliQ, though, the assistant in the car doesn’t move, of course. In Toyota’s example, the car uses lights and a small screen to provide additional interactions with the driver. As Skuler also told me, the company is already working with another automotive company to bring its Q platform to more cars, though he wasn’t ready to disclose this second automotive partner.
“Intuition Robotics is creating disruptive technology that will inspire companies to re-imagine how machines might amplify the human experience,” said Jim Adler, founding managing partner at Toyota AI Ventures, who will also join the company’s board of directors.
Intuition Robotics’ team doubled over the course of the last year and the company now has 85 employees, most of whom are engineers. The company has offices in Israel and San Francisco.
Unsurprisingly, the plans for the new funding focus on building out its assistant’s capabilities. “We’re the only company in the world that can create these context-based, nonlinear personalized interactions that we call a digital companion,” Skuler told me. “We assume people will start doing similar things. There’s a lot more work to do. […] A big part of the work is to increase our research activities and increase the tools and the performance of the runtime engine for the agent.” He also told me that the team continues to gather data about ElliQ so it can prove that it improves the quality of life of its users. And in addition to this, the company obviously also will continue to build out its work around cars.
“We cracked something nobody’s cracked before,” Skuler said. “And now we’re on the verge of getting value out of it. And it will be hard work because this is not an app. It’s really hard work but we want to capture that value.”
Karma Automotive is laying off 60 workers at its Irvine, Calif., headquarters, just three months after cutting 200 workers, according to documents filed with the California Employment Development Department.
The Chinese-backed California-based startup filed the notice under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires employers to alert the state of mass layoffs. The WARN report was updated Wednesday. The Orange County Register was first to report the layoffs.
A Karma spokesperson confirmed the layoffs and said a majority would be at the headquarters, with a significantly smaller number being impacted at its Moreno Valley, Calif. assembly plant. Karma didn’t provide details on its total employee count, but did say “adjustments” will be made at its Irvine headquarters, Moreno Valley assembly plant and its Detroit Technical Center in Troy, Mich.
Here’s the complete statement from spokesman Dave Barthmuss.
As Karma evolves beyond its initial birth as car company and emerges as a technology-focused innovator, there is a continuous need to adjust the size and skillset of its workforce to fulfill the task at hand. The company has therefore determined it necessary to realign resources in some business functions so it can grow its capabilities beyond just creating and selling luxury electric vehicles.
As Karma builds partnerships with other OEMs and start-ups to speed product development, we must staff appropriately to fully leverage and realize the kinds of efficiencies partnerships and collaborations can provide. The result of that decision is some adjustments at Karma’s Global Headquarters in Irvine, Calif.; the Karma Innovation and Customization Center in Moreno Valley, Calif.; and our Detroit Technical Center in Troy, Mich. Although clearly regrettable for the individuals involved, this action is part of the natural trajectory of a start-up enterprise and underlines Karma’s commitment to remain lean, nimble and focused on building partnerships to encourage success in a changing and hugely competitive marketplace.
The company continues to actively recruit, with emphasis on technology innovation, in functions across the company as we focus on retail deliveries of our current products and developing new vehicle platforms, technologies and business partnerships.
The layoff notice comes just a month after several executive hires at the company, including a chief revenue officer, a new vice president of strategy and vehicle line engineering and a head of supply chain. Karma does have a handful of jobs posted on its website, including 11 positions at its Irvine headquarters and two spots at the Moreno Valley plant.
Karma Automotive launched out of the remnants of Fisker Automotive, the startup led by Henrik Fisker that ended in bankruptcy in 2013. China’s Wanxiang Group purchased what was left of Fisker in 2014 and Karma Automotive was born.
It hasn’t been the easiest of roads for the company. Karma’s first effort, known as the Revero, wasn’t received warmly. The Revero GT, which has been described as the first fully conceived product under the Karma name, followed with better reviews. The 2020 Revero GT is being delivered to retail customers, according to Karma.
Karma unveiled in November the Revero GTS and a new electric concept car called the SC2, just weeks after it laid off about 200 workers following a restructuring. Production of the GTS is slated for later this year.
The SC2 is a big part of Karma’s restructuring and plan to reinvent itself as a technology and design incubator that supplies other automakers. The company’s new business strategy is to open its engineering, design, customization and manufacturing resources to other companies. The GTS and SC2 were meant to show automakers what it is capable of.
When Fair laid off 40% of its staff in October, CEO Scott Painter promised it wasn’t shuttering leasing services to on-demand fleets. But just one week later, Painter was removed as CEO and replaced in the interim with Adam Hieber, a CFA from Fair investor SoftBank. Today, according to two sources, Fair announced at an all-hands meeting that it would end its Fair Go program that helped Uber drivers lease cars on short-term deals. The program will cease in April. Uber now confirms the news to TechCrunch, and now Fair has directly confirmed the news to us as well.
“Due to an unexpected increase in insurance premiums that would have significantly raised prices for Fair’s rideshare drivers, we will wind down our weekly rideshare service over the coming months,” a spokesperson said. “We are working to minimize the disruption for Fair’s rideshare drivers, including notifying these customers of the status of their subscription in the coming weeks. We are working closely with Uber and exploring options with third parties to provide alternative customer mobility options to ensure a seamless transition for them, as well as continuity in Uber’s vehicle supply. We are thankful for our loyal Fair rideshare drivers and are disappointed we can no longer operate the business in a cost-effective way for our customers.”
Uber drivers who want to lease a car for a month or longer can still do so through Fair. The current program that is being wound down allowed Uber drivers to lease for increments of a week at a time. From what we understand, the program comprised as much as half of Fair’s business with Uber at its peak.
Formerly valued at $1.2 billion after raising over $2 billion in equity and debt financing from SoftBank and Lightspeed, Fair laid off 40% of its staff in October. It had bought Uber’s XChange leasing program in early 2018. The deal lets drivers lease an Uber-eligible car with subscriptions to roadside assistance and maintenance for as low as $130 per week with a $500 start fee.
But Uber had sold the leasing program because it was unprofitable and adding to its losses at a tough time for the rideshare giant. As additional fees stacked up, Fair didn’t fare much better operating it.
A source tells us Fair Go was profitable. It was an important focus for the company as it retooled its subscription services for traditional drivers. Another source says at one point Fair Go was adding about 250 to 300 car leases per day and had thousands of active leases.
But Fair Go was facing higher insurance rates from carriers, which make sense since Uber drivers can be on the road far, far longer than traditional car owners.
Rather than trying to pass those fees along to drivers — many of whom are already cash-strapped — Fair told employees it would cease to lease to Uber drivers. That’s a respectable choice, since it could have pushed Uber drivers into debt if they didn’t fully comprehend what their total costs would be.
Attempts to reach Fair for comment were complicated by many of its in-house PR team being hit with October’s layoffs. An agency representative provided the statement above after publishing time.
An Uber spokesperson confirmed the shut down of Fair Go and their partnership, telling TechCrunch that “Unlocking options for vehicle access so drivers can earn with Uber remains a top priority. We’re thankful for Fair’s collaboration, and their contributions to our vehicle rental program. We’re continuing to invest in rental partnerships, and building more flexibility beyond hourly, weekly, and monthly options available today.”
Uber tells me it remains committed to offering rental options to drivers through partnerships with Hertz, Avis, ZipCar and Getaround, and they may be able to work with Uber drivers formerly leasing from Fair.
Painter kept a role as chairman of Fair.com when he stepped away from the CEO position at the end of October — a change we are still confirming is in place today. At the time of the layoffs in October, he maintained that the action was proactive, and not in response to SoftBank pressure.
“SoftBank is a big shareholder and supporting my focus, and that is the reality right now,” Painter said at the time. “Leaning on us is not the term,” he added in response to our questions of whether SoftBank pressured it to make these changes. “They are supporting us — there is a big difference,” he stressed.
The CEO change one week later, and today’s news about Fair Go, points to a different unfolding of events that speaks to the pressure SoftBank itself is under.
The news is the latest low point for the SoftBank portfolio in the wake of the WeWork implosion. That’s caused potential repeat LPs for SoftBank’s massive Vision Fund to tighten their purse strings and other late stage investors to focus on sustainable unit economics. Late-stage startups have been left scrambling to cut their burn rates, often through layoffs.
SoftBank’s portfolio, which may have trouble raising on good terms after what many saw as inflated valuations propped up by the megafund, has been hit the hardest. This week TechCrunch broke the news that Flexport was laying off 3% of staff, or 50 employees.
Other SoftBank-funded company layoffs include Zume Pizza (80% of staff laid off), Wag (80%), Getaround (25%), Rappi (6%), and Oyo (5%). There may be more to come: activist investor Elliott Management, which now owns more than $2.5 billion of SoftBank shares, has reportedly been in talks with the company over a range of issues including better corporate governance and more transparency and management around investments.
Updated with confirmation from Fair, and a correction that Uber will continue offering car rentals through partners but not leasing as we originally printed.
Nuro, the autonomous delivery startup that raised $940 million in financing from Softbank Vision Fund last year, is the first company to receive a driverless exemption from the federal government.
The exemption granted by the the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is for Nuro’s newest — and until Thursday, unseen — low-speed electric vehicle called the R2 that will be used for local delivery service for restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses. It’s a milestone for Nuro as well as autonomous vehicle industry and signals how the federal government might regulate this technology.
The R2 will soon join Nuro’s fleet of self-driving Prius vehicles in Houston, making deliveries to consumers on public roads, the company said. This deployment follows Nuro’s partnership in 2018 with Kroger to pilot a delivery service in Arizona. The pilot, which initially used Toyota Prius vehicles, transitioned to the R1 delivery bot.
There are conditions to this exemption. Nuro has the exemption for two years on a conditional basis and is required to submit reports on the AV driving system and provide proper notice to communities where the R2 will be deployed. The exemption allows Nuro to produce and deploy no more than 5,000 R2 vehicles during the two-year exemption period.
Nuro’s second-generation low-speed delivery vehicle was designed to be unmanned and operates exclusively using an automated driving system. Without a human driver, the vehicle doesn’t need some of the traditional and federally required features found in passenger cars such as side view mirrors or a windshield that can be seen through.
“Since this is a low-speed self-driving delivery vehicle, certain features that the Department traditionally required — such as mirrors and windshield for vehicles carrying drivers — no longer make sense,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao said in a statement.
The federal exemption allows the vehicle to operate without these features. The new R2 delivery bot has a more narrow vehicle profile and rounded contours where the side mirrors would otherwise be placed. This design feature will create additional room for bicyclists and other “vulnerable road users,” Nuro said.
The R2 is equipped with lidar, radar, and cameras to give the “driver” a 360-degree view of its surroundings. However, that required another exemption, Nuro’s chief policy and legal officer David Estrada explained. NHTSA’s exemption also allows the R2 to operate its rearview cameras even as it moves forward. New passenger vehicles must have a backup camera that switches off once the human driver begin moving forward to avoid distraction. Without a human onboard, those concerns are moot, Nuro argued.
The R2, which was designed and assembled in the U.S. in partnership with Michigan-based Roush Enterprises, has a more durable custom vehicle body than its predecessor and a pedestrian-protecting front end that absorbs energy and can collapse inward to better protect those outside of the vehicle, according to the company.
The vehicle also has redesigned doors, a larger exterior screen for customers to interact with the vehicle and unlock the storage compartments. It also has 65% more capacity than the R1 and its compartments have temperature control to keep perishable goods fresh, including groceries or meals.
The name Porsche has been synonymous with gas-powered high-performance sports cars and racing for nearly three quarters of a century. Now, the sports car manufacturer that is owned by Volkswagen Group is trying to build a new legacy, starting with its first all-electric vehicle, the Porsche Taycan.
Porsche has said that the Taycan, which was first unveiled in September, is just the beginning. It has committed to invest more than $6 billion into electric mobility through 2025 — a goal that is already well underway. Porsche spent more than $1 billion developing the Taycan, a cost that included expanding its factory. The company is investing in tech too, including an increased stake in Croatian electric vehicle components and hypercar company Rimac Automobili. Its venture arm took a minority stake in 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 like dust, fog and rain.
Where is Porsche headed next? TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 will hopefully provide some answers. We’re excited to announce that Klaus Zellmer, the president and CEO of Porsche Cars North America, will join us onstage for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 on May 14, 2020 in San Jose, Calif.
As president and CEO of PCNA, Zellmer leads the brand’s operations in the United States and Canada. He is also CEO of Porsche Digital, the sports car manufacturer’s digital subsidiary. Zellmer previously served as head of Overseas and Emerging Markets, with responsibility for Australia, Japan and Korea, and as CEO of Porsche Germany.
Zellmer has been with Porsche more than 20 years, an era of huge change at the sports car manufacturer, notably its electric vehicle program. Zellmer will talk about Porsche’s push into electrification, digital services and even flying cars while onstage at TC Sessions: Mobility.
TechCrunch created TC Sessions: Mobility to explore new ideas and startups, dig into the tech and highlight the people driving change in this ever-changing industry. This one-day event is centered around the future of mobility and transportation. We’ve already announced a few of the engineers, investors, founders and technologists who will join us onstage, including Waymo’s Boris Sofman, Ike Robotics co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun, Trucks VC general partner Reilly Brennan and Shin-pei Tsay, director of policy, cities and transportation at Uber.
Stay tuned to see who we’ll announce next.