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Uber and Arrival partner to create an EV for ride-hail drivers

By Rebecca Bellan

Arrival, the electric vehicle manufacturer that’s attempting to do away with the assembly line in favor of highly automated microfactories, is partnering with Uber to create an EV for ride-hail drivers. 

Arrival expects to reveal the final vehicle design before the end of the year and to begin production in the third quarter of 2023. Uber drivers have been invited to contribute to the design process to ensure the vehicles are built to suit their needs.

Uber is trying to make good on a promise it made last year to become a fully electric mobility platform by 2025 in London, 2030 in North America and Europe and platform-wide by 2040. The company recently launched Uber Green which gives passengers the opportunity to select an EV at no extra cost and drivers a chance to pay a lower service fee, part of an $800 million initiative to get more drivers in EVs

To reach its aims of doubling the number of EV drivers by the end of 2021, Uber is kicking its incentives for drivers into gear by helping them purchase or finance new vehicles. The Arrival Cars might be among those recommended to Uber drivers who want to make the switch to electric, especially drivers in London who are eligible for “EV Assistance” via the company’s Clean Air Plan, which launched in 2018, but an Uber spokesperson declined to confirm how the Arrival Cars will be made available to ride. Last September, Uber partnered with General Motors in a similar deal to provide drivers in the United States and Canada discounted prices for the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt. 

“Uber is committed to helping every driver in London upgrade to an EV by 2025, and thanks to our Clean Air Plan more than £135m has been raised to support this ambition,” Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe said in a statement. “Our focus is now on encouraging drivers to use this money to help them upgrade to an electric vehicle, and our partnership with Arrival will help us achieve this goal.” 

London, where Arrival is based, aims for its entire transport system to be zero emission by 2050, and will create zero emissions zones in central London and town center from 2025, expanding outward to inner London by 2040 and city-wide by 2050. If Uber drivers want to be able to work in the hottest parts of the city, they’ll have no choice but to go electric. 

The partnership with Uber marks Arrival’s first foray into electric car development. Because Arrival focuses on the commercial space rather than commercial sales, its existing vehicle models are vans and buses. The British EV company already has an order for 10,000 purpose-built vehicles from UPS.

Arrival wants to change the way commercial electric vehicles are designed and manufactured. By designing its own batteries and other components in-house and building vehicles through multiple microfactories, which are much smaller than traditional manufacturing facilities, Arrival says it produces vehicles quicker, cheaper and with far fewer environmental costs.

The company began publicly trading in March following a SPAC merger with CIIG, one of many EV companies to hit the markets via the SPAC route as opposed to the traditional, and slower, IPO route.

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

By Kirsten Korosec

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

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

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

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

Micromobbin’

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

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

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

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

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

A turning point for micromobility at scale?

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

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

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

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

Vaccine efforts

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

Ready to outdoor e-bikes

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

 — Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other deals that got my attention …

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policy corner!

the-station-delivery

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

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

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

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

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

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery

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

Electric vehicles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future of flight

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

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

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

In-car tech

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

Sharing

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

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

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

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

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

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

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

Lime launches 100 e-mopeds in New York City as Mayor de Blasio reveals plan to fully re-open by July 1

By Rebecca Bellan

Weeks after Lime became one of the first companies to win the bid to operate e-scooters in New York City, the micromobility giant is bringing e-mopeds to the city’s streets. This will be the first company to host multiple modes of micromobility sharing in NYC.

On Friday, Lime will release 100 electric mopeds onto the streets of Brooklyn, with planned expansions in Queens and lower Manhattan in the coming weeks. NYC is often choked and heated by smog from car pollution, but if it wants to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, it’ll have to get comfortable with seeing more electric micromobility crop up.

Lime will be directly competing with the only other existing dockless e-moped operator in the city, Revel, which just announced the launch of an all-EV rideshare service. Lime’s initial geographic zones of operation will more or less match Revel’s map, which includes much of north Brooklyn, from Williamsburg, to Greenpoint and Brooklyn Heights, but which will also extend southeast to the Flatlands, according to a Lime spokesperson.

Earlier this month, Lime also launched e-mopeds in Washington D.C. and Paris. With each launch, Lime has stressed its commitment to rider and road user safety with features like AI-enabled helmet detection and license verification and a liveness test, which asks the rider to make various facial expressions into the camera when signing up in order to prove they’re a real person, rather than using a static photo of someone else. A spokesperson said Lime can also use the liveness test to match the rider to their driver’s license to ensure it’s the same person.

Lime also requires a mandatory rider education curriculum designed in consultation with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and its service is covered by motor vehicle liability insurance, which provides financial protection if a rider were to harm someone else or their property while driving, but not for the rider or rider’s property.

Competitor Revel learned the hard way to include such safety features. Last summer, the company took its mopeds off the roads for a few weeks following several deaths and reports that riders weren’t wearing helmets, in order to come up with a safety plan that would assuage the city’s fears. Now Revel requires that users take a helmet selfie and requires all riders to take a 21-question safety training quiz and watch an instructional video before hopping on a moped for the first time. The app also has a community reporting tool that anyone can use to report bad behavior to Revel.

The steps Lime and Revel are taking to ensure rider safety are not dictated by the NYC Department of Transportation. Whereas the DOT engaged in a lengthy process to approve e-scooters to operate in the city, mopeds are not regulated by the city.

“We made an effort to work collaboratively with DOT, keep them informed of our plans, answer their questions and address any concerns,” a Lime spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Lime will also offer its Lime Aid program to give discounted rates to Pell Grant recipients, job seekers and recipients of subsidy programs, as well as free rides to frontline workers, teachers, non-profit employees, artists and hospitality workers — those who have been most affected by the pandemic.

As more New Yorkers get vaccinated and the city starts to open up (with a freshly-revealed plan to fully re-open the city by July 1) , Lime wants to entrench itself as a leading micromobility vessel, and they couldn’t ask for a better time than a post-pandemic summer.

“The pandemic has pushed New Yorkers to look for new ways to get around that are safe, sustainable and car-free,” said Lime CEO Wayne Ting in a statement. “Now, as New York emerges from a difficult year, we are eager to support an economic comeback driven not by cars, but by sustainable options that reduce congestion and allow for open-air, socially-distanced travel.”

GM partners with 7 charging networks ahead of electric vehicle push

By Kirsten Korosec

GM revealed Wednesday a four-part plan meant to handle all the steps of charging an electric vehicle, including finding a public charger and paying for the power, as the automaker seeks ways to attract customers to the 30 EVs it plans to launch by 2025.

The so-called Ultium Charge 360 plan — named after the underlying electric vehicle platform and batteries of its upcoming EVs — aims to handle the access, payment and customer service components of charging an electric vehicle at home and on the road. As part of the plan, which the company’s chief EV officer Travis Hester said will be rolling out over the next 18 months, GM has signed agreements with seven third-party charging network providers, including Blink Charging, ChargePoint, EV Connect, EVgo, FLO, Greenlots and SemaConnect. Using their GM vehicle brand mobile app, EV drivers will be able to see real-time information, including location and whether a charger is being used, from nearly 60,000 charging plugs throughout the U.S. and Canada. These functions will be rolled into the existing brand apps GM has created for owners of its Chevrolet, Cadillac and GMC vehicles.

The first GM and EVgo sites are now live in Washington, California and Florida. GM said each site is capable of delivering up to 350 kilowatts and averages four chargers per site. GM and EVgo are on track to have about 500 fast-charging stalls live by the end of 2021, according to the automaker.

Hester noted the plan isn’t just about how many third-party networks it partners with. (Although it should be noted that Electrify America is not on its list of partners announced Wednesday.)

“We know how critical the charging infrastructure is to our customers and how it plays a hugely significant role in EV adoption and experienced EV owners know that this is much more complicated than just a simple network quantity issue,” Hester said in a media briefing Wednesday.

For instance, the GM app will provide information on how to find stations along a route and initiate and pay for charging, Hester said. GM will continue to update the mobile app. GM is also planning to offer charging accessories and installation services for their home charger. The company said Wednesday it will cover standard installation of Level 2 charging capability for eligible customers who purchase or lease a 2022 Bolt EUV or Bolt EV in collaboration with Qmerit.

There were some gaps in the announcement, notably whether there would be Plug and Charge capabilities. Plug and Charge is a technology standard that allows the driver of an EV to pull up to a station, plug in and power up their EV without having to launch an app to begin the charging process or to pay for it. Instead, the vehicle is able to communicate with the charging infrastructure and the payment is integrated into that process. Alex Keros, the lead architect for EV infrastructure at GM, said the company wasn’t making any announcements around Plug and Charge, but noted that the company knows “that enabling that seamless experience is going to be an important part of that customer experience.”

Tesla sees bitcoin as important financial tool to access cash quickly

By Rebecca Bellan

Tesla’s relationship with bitcoin is not a dalliance, according to the comments made by the company’s CFO and dubbed “master of coin” Zach Kirkhorn during an earnings call Monday. Instead, the company believes in the longevity of bitcoin, despite its volatility.

Tesla invested $1.5 billion in bitcoin this quarter and then trimmed its position by 10%, Kirkhorn said during the company quarterly earnings call. That sale made a $101 million “positive impact” to the company’s profitability in the first quarter, he added. Tesla also allows customers to make vehicle deposits and final vehicle purchases using bitcoin. 

Tesla turned to bitcoin as a place to store cash and still access it immediately, all while providing a better return on investment than more traditional central bank-backed safe havens. Of course, the higher yields provided by the volatile digital currency comes with higher risk.

Tesla bucks the trend of the more cautionary Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell who noted back in March at virtual summit hosted by the Bank for International Settlements that the Fed considers crypto speculative assets that are highly volatile and therefore not useful stores of value. That matters because the basic function of currency is its ability to store value. He also noted that digital currencies are not backed by anything and compared it to gold and not the dollar.

From Kirkhorn:

Elon and I were looking for a place to store cash that wasn’t being immediately used, try to get some level of return on this, but also preserve liquidity, you know, particularly as we look forward to the launch of Austin and Berlin and uncertainty that’s happening with semiconductors and port capacity, being able to access our cash very quickly is super important to us right now.

And, you know, there aren’t many traditional opportunities to do this or at least that we found and and talking to others that we could get good feedback on, particularly with yields being so low and without taking on additional risk or sacrificing liquidity. Bitcoin seemed at the time, and so far has proven to be a good decision, a good place to place some of our cash that’s not immediately being used for daily operations or maybe not needed till the end of the year, and be able to get some return on that.

Tesla is watching the digital currency closely, Kirkhorn said, noting that there is a lot of reason to be optimistic.

“You know, thinking about it from a corporate treasury perspective, we’ve been quite pleased with how much liquidity there is in the bitcoin market,” he said. “Our ability to build our first position happened very quickly. When we did the sale later in March we also were able to execute on that very quickly. And so as we think about kind of global liquidity for the business in risk management, being able to get cash in and out of the market is something that I think is exceptionally important for us.”

While Tesla did trim its position in March, Kirkhorn added that the company’s intent is to hold what it has long term and to continue to accumulate bitcoin from transactions from its customers as they purchase vehicles. Musk, who also goes by Technoking, announced in March that Tesla would accept bitcoin as a form of payment in the United States.

Honda targets 100% EV sales in North America by 2040

By Rebecca Bellan

Honda’s new goal is to achieve 100% EV sales in North America by 2040 as part of its broader target of being carbon neutral by 2050. CEO Toshihiro Mibe announced planned shift away from internal combustion engines at a news conference on Friday, his first since taking over executive leadership of the company in early April.

This is the latest in a stream of pledges from legacy car manufacturers to introduce high percentages of zero-emissions vehicles into their fleets and achieve carbon neutrality. General Motors plans to eliminate gas and diesel light-duty cars and SUVs by 2035 and be carbon neutral by 2040, and Mazda, Mitsubishi and Nissan have all said they plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Honda’s goals are also in alignment with Japan’s electrification strategy, which aims for a 46% cut in emissions by 2030.

Honda will start on this road immediately, expecting EVs to account for 40% of sales by 2030, and 80% by 2035 in all major markets. By the second half of 2020, Japan’s second-largest automaker will launch a series of new electric models in North America based on the company’s in-house e:Architecture platform.

Honda, and its subsidiary Acura, will also introduce two large-sized EV models using GM’s Ultium batteries by 2024. The company will further its collaboration with GM by using fuel cell technology for a range of vehicles and applications, like commercial trucks and power sources.

Bosch sees a place for renewable fuels, challenging proposed European Union engine ban

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Bosch executives on Thursday criticized proposed EU regulations that would ban the internal combustion engine by 2025, saying that lawmakers “shy away” from discussing the consequences of such a ban on employment.

Although the company reported it is creating jobs through its new businesses, particularly its fuel cell business, and said it was filling more than 90% of these positions internally, it also said an all- or mostly-electric transportation revolution would likely affect jobs. As a case in point, the company told reporters that ten Bosch employees are needed to build a diesel powertrain system, three for a gasoline system — but only one for an electrical powertrain.

Instead, Bosch sees a place for renewable synthetic fuels and hydrogen fuel cells alongside electrification. Renewable synthetic fuels made from hydrogen are a different technology from hydrogen fuel cells. Fuel cells use hydrogen to generate electricity, while hydrogen-derived fuels can be combusted in a modified internal combustion engine (ICE).

“An opportunity is being missed if renewable synthetic fuel derived from hydrogen and CO2 remains off-limits in road transport,” Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner said.

“Climate action is not about the end of the internal-combustion engine,” he continued. “It’s about the end of fossil fuels. And while electromobility and green charging power make road transport carbon neutral, so do renewable fuels.”

Electric solutions have limits, Denner said, particularly in powering heavy-duty vehicles. The company earlier this month established a joint venture with Chinese automaker Qingling Motors to build fuel cell powertrains in a test fleet of 70 trucks.

Bosch’s confidence in hydrogen fuel cells and synthetic fuels isn’t to the exclusion of battery-electric mobility. The company, which is one of the world’s largest suppliers of automotive and industrial components, said its electromobility business is growing by almost 40 percent, and the company projects annual sales of electrical powertrain components to increase to around €5 billion ($6 billion) by 2025, a fivefold increase.

However, the German company said it was “keeping its options open” by also investing €600 million ($721.7 million) in fuel cell powertrains in the next three years.

“Ultimately Europe won’t be able to achieve climate neutrality without a hydrogen economy,” Denner said.

Bosch has not been immune from the effects of the global semiconductor shortage, which continues to drag into 2021. Board member Stefan Asenkerschbaumer warned that there is a risk the shortage “will stifle the recovery that was forecast” for this year. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company executives told investors earlier this month that the situation may persist into 2022.

Tesla owners can now see how much solar or coal is powering their EVs

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla owners can now see exactly what kind of energy is powering their electric vehicles. TezLab, a free app that’s like a Fitbit for a Tesla vehicle, pushed out a new feature this week that shows the energy mix — breaking down the exact types and percentages of fossil fuels and renewable energy — coming from charging locations, including Superchargers and third-party networks throughout the United States.

“We’re tracking the origin of data as it relates to energy, so we know if you’re in Tucson or Brooklyn (or any location) where the energy is coming from and what the mix of that energy looks like,” Ben Schippers, the CEO and co-founder of TezLab explained in a recent interview. “As a result, we can see how much carbon is being pushed out into the atmosphere based on your charge, whether you’re charging at home, or whether you’re charging at a Supercharger.”

ElectricityMap, a project from Tomorrow, provided the energy data, which TezLab then folded into its consumer-facing app. Once downloaded, the app knows when and where a Tesla owner is plugging in. The energy mix feature builds off of an existing program on the app that gave owners more general information on how dirty or clean their charge is.

Image Credits: TezLab

Take Tesla’s Linq High Roller Supercharger in Las Vegas, a V3 Supercharger that is supposed to support a peak rate of up to 250 kilowatts and has been heralded for its use of Tesla solar panels and its Powerpack batteries to generate and store the power needed to operate the chargers.

According to TezLab’s data, 1.7% of the energy is from solar. The primary source of renewable energy is actually hydro at 65.6% — courtesy of the Hoover Dam. The remaining energy mix from the Supercharger is about 33% natural gas.

Tesla’s Supercharger in Hawthorne, California, which was one of the first to have solar panels, has an energy mix of 0.2% solar, 5.5% nuclear,13.3% natural gas, 27% coal and 49.9% wind.

The top 10 “cleanest” Superchargers — a list that includes Centralia, Leavenworth, Moses Lake and Seattle, Washington — achieved that goal thanks to hydroelectric power. Superchargers with the most solar energy are all located in the same power grid in California. Superchargers in Barstow, Oxnard, Cabazon, San Diego, Mojave, Inyokern, San Mateo, Seaside and Santa Ana, California all have 22.7% solar and 15% wind energy. The remaining mix at these locations is 0.2% battery storage, 2.9% biomass, 5.6% geothermal, 6.3% hydro, 6.6% nuclear and 40% natural gas.

TezLab was born out of HappyFunCorp, a software engineering shop that builds apps for mobile, web, wearables and Internet of Things devices for clients that include Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, as well as an array of startups. HFC’s engineers, including co-founders Schippers (who is now chairman of the company’s board) and William Schenk, were attracted to Tesla largely because of its software-driven approach. The group was particularly intrigued at the opportunity created by the openness of the Tesla API. The Tesla API is technically private. But the endpoints are accessible to outsiders. When reverse-engineered, it’s possible for a third-party app to communicate directly with the API.

TezLab launched in 2018 with some initial features that let owners track their efficiency, total trip miles and use it to control certain functions of the vehicle, such as locking and unlocking the doors and heating and air conditioning. More features have been added, mostly focused on building community, including one that allows Tesla owners to rate Supercharger stations.

All of that data is aggregated and anonymous. TezLab has said it won’t sell that data. It does post on its website insights gleaned from that data, such as a breakdown of model ownership, the average trip length and average time between plugging in.

As other electric vehicles come to market, TezLab is adding those to the app, including the Ford Mustang Mach-E.

GM’s second $2.3B battery plant with LG Chem to open in late 2023

By Kirsten Korosec

GM and LG Chem announced Friday plans to build a second U.S. battery cell factory — a $2.3 billion facility in Spring Hill, Tennessee that will supply the automaker with the cells needed for the 30 electric vehicle models it plans to launch by mid decade.

Construction on the plant, which is located next to GM’s existing Spring Hill factory, will begin immediately, the company’s CEO and Chairman Mary Barra said in a press conference. The battery factory, which is expected to be complete by late 2023, and create 1,300 jobs.

Once fully operational, the joint venture’s two battery factories will have production capacity of more than 70 gigawatt hours, which LG Chem Energy Solutions CEO Jong Hyun Kim noted is two times bigger than the Tesla gigafactory in Nevada. Tesla’s factory in Sparks, Nevada, which is part of a partnership with Panasonic, has a 35 GW-hour capacity.

The foundation of GM’s shift to EVs is its Ultium platform, and the Ultium lithium-ion batteries, which will be built at the Spring Hill factory. These new batteries will use less of the rare earth material cobalt and feature a single common cell design that can be configured more efficiently for higher energy density and a smaller space than our current batteries, Barra said.

“This versatility means we can put more battery power into a wider variety of vehicles, and at a better price for customers,” Barra said. “It’s truly a revolution in electric vehicle technology that will help democratize EV ownership for millions of customers, which will change lives and change the world.”

GM has used LG Chem as a lithium-ion and electronics supplier for at least a decade. The companies began working together in 2009. That relationship deepened as GM developed and then launched the Chevy Bolt EV.  In 2019, GM and LG Chem formed a joint venture to mass produce battery cells as the automaker began to shift towards more electric vehicles. The two companies said at the time that they would invest up to a total of $2.3 billion into the new joint venture and establish a battery cell assembly plant on a greenfield manufacturing site in the Lordstown area of Northeast Ohio that will create more than 1,100 new jobs.

Steel construction began in July 2020 on the Ultium Cells LLC battery cell manufacturing facility in Lordstown, a nearly 3-million-square-foot factory that will mass produce Ultium battery cells and packs. The Lordstown factory will be able produce 30 gigawatts hours of capacity annually.

The batteries produced at the Lordstown factory along with GM’s underlying electric architecture will be used in a broad range of products across its Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet and GMC brands, as well as the Cruise Origin autonomous shuttle that was revealed in January 2020. The Cadillac Lyriq EV flagship and an all-electric GMC Hummer, which will be revealed this fall and go into production in the fourth quarter of 2021, will use the Ultium battery system. GM plans to reveal the Lyriq at a virtual event August 6.

This modular architecture, called “Ultium,” (same as the battery) will be capable of 19 different battery and drive unit configurations, 400-volt and 800-volt packs with storage ranging from 50 kWh to 200 kWh, and front, rear and all-wheel drive configurations. At the heart of the new modular architecture will be the large-format pouch battery cells manufactured at this new factory.

All the tech crammed into the 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS

By Kirsten Korosec

Mercedes-Benz lifted the final veil Thursday on its flagship EQS sedan after weeks of teasers, announcements and even a pre-production drive that TechCrunch participated in. The company peeled off the camouflage of the EQS — the electric counterpart to the Mercedes S Class — and revealed an ultra-luxury and tech-centric sedan.

The exterior is getting much of the attention today; but it’s all of the tech that got ours from the microsleep warning system and 56-inch hyperscreen to the monster HEPA air filter and the software that intuitively learns the driver’s wants and needs. There is even a new fragrance called No.6 MOOD Linen and is described as “carried by the green note of a fig and linen.”

“There is not one thing because this car is 100 things,” Ola Kaellenius, the chairman of the board of management of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz, told TechCrunch in an interview the morning of the EQS launch. “And it’s those 100 little things that make the difference and that makes a Mercedes, a Mercedes.”

Mercedes is betting that the tech coupled with performance and design will attract buyers. This is a high-stakes game for Mercedes. The German automaker is banking on a successful rollout of the EQS in North America that will erase any memory of its troubled — and now nixed — launch of the EQC crossover in the United States.

Quick nuts and bolts

Before diving into the all the techy bells and whistles, here are the basics. The EQS is the first all-electric luxury sedan under the automaker’s new EQ brand. The first models being introduced to the U.S. market will be the EQS 450+ with 329 hp and the EQS 580 4MATIC with 516 hp. Mercedes didn’t share the price of these models. It did provide a bevy of other details on its performance, design and range.

The EQS that will be available in the U.S. has a length that is a skosh over 17 feet, precisely 205.4 inches long, which is the Goldilocks equivalent to the Mercedes S Class variants.

Mercedes-EQS

Mercedes EQS 580 4MATIC

The vehicle has a co-efficient drag of 0.202, which sneaks below Tesla’s Model S and the upcoming Lucid Motors Air, making its the most aerodynamic production car in the world. All EQS models have an electric powertrain at the rear axle. The EQS 580 4MATIC also has an electric powertrain at the front axle, giving it that all-wheel drive capability. The EQS generates between 329 hp and 516 hp, depending on the variant. Mercedes said a performance version is being planned that will have up to 630 hp. Both the EQS 450+ and the EQS 580 4MATIC have a top speed of 130 miles per hour. The EQS 450+ will have a 0 to 60 mph acceleration time of 5.5 seconds while its more powerful sibling will be able to achieve that speed in 4.1 seconds.

The EQS will have two possible batteries to choose from, although Mercedes has only released details of one. The heftiest configuration of the EQS has a battery with 107.8 kWh of usable energy content that can travel up 478 miles on a single charge under the European WLTP estimates. The EPA estimates, which tend to be stricter, will likely fall below that figure.

The vehicle can be charged with up to 200 kW at fast charging stations with direct current, according to Mercedes. At home or at public charging stations, the EQS can be charged with AC using the on-board charger.

Now onto some of the technological highlights within the vehicle.

ADAS

There are loads of driver assistance features in the EQS, which are supported by a variety of sensors such as ultrasound, camera, radar and lidar that are integrated into the vehicle. Adaptive cruise, the ability to adjust the acceleration behavior, lane detection and automatic lane changes as well as steering assist helps the driver to follow the driving lane at speeds up to 130 mph are some of the ADAS features. The system also recognizes signposted speed limits, overhead frameworks and signs at construction zones and includes warnings about running a stop sign and a red light.

Another new feature is the micro-sleep warning function, which becomes active once the vehicle reaches speeds over 12 mph. This feature works by analyzing the driver’s eyelid movements through a camera on the driver’s display, which is only available with MBUX Hyperscreen.

There are several active assist features that will intervene if needed. An active blind spot assist can give a visual warning of potential lateral collisions in a speed range from around 6 mph to 124 mph. However, if the driver ignores the warnings and still initiates a lane-change, the system can take corrective action by one-sided braking intervention at the last moment if the speed exceeds 19 mph, Mercedes said. The feature remains active even while parked and will warn against exiting if a vehicle or cyclist is passing nearby.

There is also an active emergency stop assist feature that will brake the vehicle to a standstill in its own lane if the sensors and software recognizes that the driver is no longer responding to the traffic situation for a longer period. The brakes are not suddenly applied. If the driver is unresponsive, it begins with an acoustic warning and a visual warning appears in the instrument cluster. Those warnings continue as the vehicle starts to slowly decelerate. Hazard lights are activated and the driver’s seatbelt is briefly tensioned as a haptic warning. The final step is what Mercedes describes as a “short, strong brake jolt” as an additional warning followed by the car decelerating to a standstill, with an optional single lane change if necessary.

Mercedes is also offering the option of DRIVE PILOT, which is an SAE Level 3 conditional automated driving system feature. This would allow hands free driving. Regulations in Europe prevent that level of automation to be deployed in production vehicles on public roads. However,  Kallenius told media in Germany on Thursday that the company is on “on the verge of trying to certify the first volume production car Level 3 system in Germany in the second half of this year,” Automotive News Europe reported.

The car that learns

Many of the technological gee-whiz doodads in the EQS tie back to an underlying AI that is designed to learn the driver’s behavior. That is achieved through software and a dizzying number of sensors. Mercedes said that depending on the equipment, the EQS will have up to 350 sensors that are used to record distances, speeds and accelerations, lighting conditions, precipitation and temperatures, the occupancy of seats as well as the driver’s blink of an eye or the passengers’ speech.

The sensors capture information, which is then processed by electronic control units (computers) and software algorithms then take over to make decisions. TechCrunch automotive reviewer Tamara Warren noticed the vehicle’s ability to learn her preference during a half day with the EQS.

Mercedes ran through a number of examples of how these sensors and software might work together, including an optional driving sound that is interactive and reacts to different parameters such as position of the accelerator pedal, speed or recuperation.

The intuitive learning is mostly apparent through interactions with the MBUX infotainment system, which will proactively show the right functions for the user at the right time. Sensors pick up on change in the surroundings and user behavior and will react accordingly. Mercedes learned from data collected from the first-generation MBUX, which debuted in the 2019 Mercedes A Class, and found most of the use cases fall in the Navigation, Radio/Media and Telephone categories.

That user data informed how the second-generation MBUZ, and specifically the one in the EQS, is laid out. For instance, the navigation app is always in the center of the visual display unit.

2022_Mercedes_EQS__79

Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

The MBUX uses a natural language processing and so drivers can always use their voice to launch a radio station or control the climate. But Mercedes is really pushing the EQS’ intuitive learning capabilities. This means that as a driver uses the vehicle, items that might be typically buried in the menu will appear up front, or offered up depending on the time or even location of the vehicle.

“The car gets to know you as a person and your preferences and what you do,” said Kaellenius. “It’s almost like it serves up the option that you want to do next, before you even think about it you get.”

“You get a pizza delivered before you even get hungry,” Kaellenius said, jokingly. “That phenomenal in terms of intuition.”

According to Mercedes there are more than 20 other functions such as birthday reminders that are automatically offered with the help of artificial intelligence when they are relevant to the customer. These suggestion modules, which are displayed on the zero-layer interface, are called “Magic Modules.” Here is how it might work: if the driver always calls a particular friend ore relative on the way home on certain evenings, the vehicle will deliver a suggestion regarding this particular call on this day of the week and at this time. A business card will appear with their contact information and – if this is stored – their photo, Mercedes said. All the suggestions from MBUX are coupled with the logged-in profile of the user. This means that if someone else drives the EQS on that same evening, with their own profile logged-in, this recommendation is not displayed.

If a driver always listens to a specific radio program on their commute home, this suggestion will be displayed or if they regularly use the hot stone massage, the system will automatically suggest the comfort function in colder temperatures. If a passenger is attempting to read documents at night

between them in a very intuitive and very simple way of doing this. Human Centered innovation, all of these little things are in the, in the EQ s at night when you’re writing you put your hand towards the seat next to you, you want to have some documents, maybe you’re writing back for work, you have a drive or what have you, light comes on there, it shines on the, where you have your hand you pull it up. I could go on and on and on

This also applies to the vehicle’s driving functions. For example, the MBUX will remember if the driver has a steep driveway or passes over the same set of speed bumps entering their neighborhood. If the vehicle approaches that GPS position, the MBUX will suggest raising the chassis to offer more ground clearance.

Health and wellness

Remember those sensors? There’s a way for drivers to take it a step further and link their smartwatch — Mercedes-Benz vivoactive 3, the Mercedes-Benz Venu or another compatible Garmin — to the vehicle’s so-called energizing coach. This coach responds to the user’s behavior and will offer up one of several programs such as “freshness,” “warmth,” “vitality,” or “joy” depending on the individual. Via the Mercedes me App, the smartwatch sends vital data of the wearer to the coach, including pulse rate, stress level and sleep quality. The pulse rate recorded by the integrated Garmin wearable is shown in the central display.

What does this all mean in practice? Depending on the user’s wants and the AI system’s understanding of what he or she wants, the lighting, climate, sound and seating might change. This is, of course, all integrated with the voice assistant ‘Hey Mercedes’ so drivers can simply make a statement to trigger the program they want.

If the driver says “I am stressed,” the Joy program will be launched. If the driver says “I’m tired,” they are then prompted to take a break the Vitality program.

Mercedes S Class owners might already be familiar with these options, although the automaker notes that EQS builds on the system. There are now three new energizing nature programs called forest glade, sounds of the sea and summer rain as well as training and tips options. Each program launches different and immersive sounds, which created in consultation with the acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton. For instance, “forest glade” will deliver a combination of birdsong, rustling leaves and a gentle breeze. The program is rounded off by warm music soundscapes and subtle fragrance.

Sounds of the Sea will produce soft music soundscapes, wave sounds and seagull sounds. Blasts of air from the air conditioning system completes the effect. Meanwhile “summer rain” offers up sounds of raindrops on leafy canopies, distant thunder, pattering rain and ambient music soundscapes.

2022_Mercedes_EQS__64

Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

For those long drives which require a break, Mercedes added a power nap feature. Once power nap is selected (and no never when driving), the program runs through three phases: falling asleep, sleeping, and waking up. The driver’s seat moves into a rest position, the side windows and panorama roof sunshade are close and the air ionization is activated. Soothing sounds and the depiction of a starry sky on the central display support falling asleep, according to Mercedes. Once it is time to wake up, a soundscape is activated, a fragrance is deployed and a brief active massage and seat ventilation begins. The seat raises and the sunshade in the roof liner opens.

Voice

As mentioned before the “Hey Mercedes” voice assistant uses natural language processing and can handle an array of requests. Mercedes said the assistant can now do more and certain actions such as accepting a phone call can be made without the activation keyword “Hey Mercedes.” The assistant can now explain vehicle functions.

The assistant can also recognize vehicle occupants by their voices. There is in fact individual microphones placed at each seating area within the vehicle. Once they have been learned, the assistant can access personal data and functions for that specific user.

The voice assistant in the EQS can also be operated from the rear, according to Mercedes.

These personal profiles are stored in the Cloud as part of “Mercedes me.” That means  the profiles can also be used in other Mercedes-Benz vehicles with the new MBUX generation. Security is built in and includes a PIN and then combines fingerprint, face and voice recognition to authenticate. This allows access to individual settings or verification of digital payment processes from the vehicle, the automaker said.

Screens and entertainment

Finally, yes the screens. All of the screens. The 56-inch hyperscreen gets the most attention, but there are screens throughout the EQS. What is important about them is how they communicate with each other.

The hyperscreen is actually three screens that sit under a common bonded glass cover and visually merge into one display. The driver display is 12.3 inches, the central display is 17.7 inches and front passenger display is 12.3 inches. The MBUX Hyperscreen is a touchscreen and also throws in haptic feedback and force feedback.

“Sometimes when I think about the first design and what we’ve actually done here, it’s like, ‘Are we mad to try to create a one meter 41 centimeters curved bonded glass, one piece in the car,” said Kaellenius. “The physical piece in its own right — It’s a piece of technological art.”

2022_Mercedes_EQS

Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

A lot of attention was paid to the backseat because the EQS, like its S Class counterpart, are often used to chauffeur the owner. Mercedes won’t call this a rear-seat entertainment system and instead refers to it as multi seat entertainment system because everything is connected to each other.

Kaellenius explained that if a driver wants the two rear passengers to watch a different movie, a simple drag and swipe motion on the main screen will throw that new programming back to the rear. The passengers can also throw movies from left to right.

Rivian to initially launch in-house insurance program in 40 states

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Electric truck startup Rivian released Thursday details of its in-house Rivian Insurance program, which it says will be integrated into its digital ordering process.

The insurance will initially be available in 40 states. Keeping in line with the company’s marketing as an “adventure vehicle” company, customers will also have the option to cover their home and recreational equipment, such as boats, dirt bikes, and campers. Rivian’s plans to start an insurance program first leaked more than a year ago after a job posting was spotted.

What makes the insurance offering stand out, however, is its integration with the Rivian vehicle platform and Driver+ safety suite, which the company said in a blog post will help deliver “tailored, data-driven coverage.” Customers who choose Rivian Insurance will get Driver+ rate reductions, with more details to come. Drivers can additionally opt in to a separate program that offers savings for using Rivian’s Active Driver Assistance software.

It’s a clever move for the company, which plans to bring its first electric pickup to market later this year. Like Tesla, Rivian intends to have Rivian Collision Centers and Service Centers performing the work – and by keeping everything in-house, the company is likely thinking customers will be attracted to a seamless insurance program. Rivian Insurance is another instance of the newer entrant following in the veteran’s lead, but with one big advantage: Tesla Insurance is only available to owners in California.

Polestar raises $500M from outside investors as EV market grows

By Kirsten Korosec

Polestar, Volvo Car Group’s standalone electric performance brand, has raised $550 million in its first external round led by Chongqing Chengxing Equity Investment Fund Partnership, Zibo Financial Holding and Zibo Hightech Industrial Investment.

SK Inc., the South Korean global conglomerate, and a range of other investors also participated.

While this is Polestar’s first external round, the company’s comments suggest it won’t be its last. Polestar said Thursday that the growing market for electric vehicles coupled with advancements in technology that have made EVs more economical have attracted investors. Polestar added that it is in ongoing discussions with global investors about possible additional fund raising.

“Our new investors have recognized that Polestar offers an alluring combination of established industrial and technological capability alongside superlative growth potential as the global auto industry goes electric,” Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath said in a statement.

The new capital will diversify’s Polestar’s funding structure and “deepens the pool of resources available to accelerate product development and technological capabilities ahead of launching several ground-breaking cars in the coming years,” the company said in its announcement.

 

Polestar was once a high-performance brand under Volvo Cars. In 2017, the company was recast as an electric performance brand aimed at producing exciting and fun-to-drive electric vehicles — a niche that Tesla was the first to fill and has dominated ever since. Polestar is jointly owned by Volvo Car Group and Zhejiang Geely Holding of China. Volvo was acquired by Geely in 2010.

Since its launch, Polestar has opened a manufacturing facility in China, built a global sales and distribution operation, and launched two vehicles, the Polestar 1 and the all-electric Polestar 2.

The company is adding its lineup, announcing this week that it will produce two additional versions of the Polestar 2 EV with lower base prices.

One new variant will be a new single motor Polestar 2 that retains the 78 kWh battery of the dual motor model, and delivers an estimated EPA range of about 260 miles. Polestar offers the Plus Pack, which extends the range up to 10%. The single motor Polestar 2 will arrive in North America at the end of 2021.

Polestar said it will also a more simply configured dual motor version. The dual motor Polestar 2 has estimated EPA range of 240 miles, and can go even further on a charge when fitted with the new Plus Pack.

The company also announced grander ambitions to build the first climate-neutral car by 2030. That climate neutral badge won’t be earned throough carbon offsets, but by fundamentally change the way the new EV is made, Polestar said, including rethinking every piece of the supply chain, from materials sourcing through to manufacturing, and even by making the vehicle more energy efficient.

 

 

Persefoni’s carbon accounting platform raises $9.7 million

By Jonathan Shieber

The carbon accounting and management platform Persefoni now has $9.7 million more in funding to support its international expansion, product development, and recruitment efforts.

The round, led by Rice Investment Group with participation from NGP ETP, the electricity, renewable and sustainability-focused investment arm of the oil and gas and power focused investment fund NGP, comes only about six months after the startup’s initial launch in August.

Founded only last January, Persefoni touts its tools to assemble, calculate, manage, and report organizational carbon footprints.

The company’s software promises real time reports on scope 1 through 3 emissions (these are emissions generated by a company’s direct operations, its purchases of power and the emissions of its suppliers).

“On the back of a banner year of net-zero commitments from governments, asset managers, and organizations the world over, we saw the venture and software investor communities wake up to what is the formation of the largest regulatory compliance software market since the introduction of Sarbanes Oxley”, said Kentaro Kawamori, CEO and co-founder of Persefoni, in a statement. “We applaud the efforts of financial regulators around the world who are implementing carbon and climate disclosure requirements. Such regulation is one of the most impactful ways to get companies accounting for, and reducing, their carbon footprint.”

Private equity firms like TPG are signing on to Persefoni’s service and Greg Lyons, a principal at NGP will be taking a seat on the company’s board of directors.

Additional investors in the company include the Carnrite Group and Sallyport Investments.

“Sallyport looks to partner with high-growth companies with an aim of making a meaningful industry impact,” said Doug Foshee, founder and owner of Sallyport Investments, in a statement.

Boosting the company’s environmental, social, and corporate governance bona fides is the addition of Robert G. Eccles, the founding chairman of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, to Persefoni’s board of advisors.

Bird, Lime and VeoRide selected for NYC e-scooter pilot

By Rebecca Bellan

Lime, Bird and VeoRide have scored coveted permits to New York City’s first e-scooter pilot.

The New York City Department of Transportation, which originally released a request for proposals in October for the pilot that was meant to start in early March, made its selections public Wednesday. The three companies are expected to begin operations in the Bronx by early summer with 1,000 electric scooters each.

“After a competitive selection process, Bird, Lime and Veo unveil e-scooter models and pricing plans that will allow most rides for under $5,” said NYC DOT in a statement. “New bicycle lanes planned for pilot zone over the next two years will also enhance e-scooter mobility and safety.” 

Micromobility operators have been competing fiercely to win a dwindling number of city concessions. If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, says Frank Sinatra, and winning the Big Apple plays a massive role in determining which operators will survive as the rideshare industry consolidates under a few powerful players. 

Bird is already in over 100 cities around the United States, Europe and the Middle East, while Lime is ubiquitous with around 130 cities in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Australia under its belt. This win calcifies the clout the two already have in the industry. Chicago-based VeoRide is arguably the underdog of the trio with service around 20 U.S. cities, so getting the chance to operate in New York could be a game-changer for the already profitable company. This is especially true in a city that’s simultaneously still wary of coronavirus and eager to get out and catch up with friends and family this summer. 

“This e-scooter pilot program couldn’t come at a better time, as New York focuses on providing low-cost transportation options that allow residents to travel socially-distanced in the open air,” Lime CEO Wayne Ting said in a statement. “In welcoming a new mode of transportation to its streets, New York demonstrates its dedication to shepherding a sustainable recovery from COVID-19 — one that isn’t hampered by the crippling traffic congestion that depresses growth.”

Superpedestrian and Spin are among the companies that weren’t selected for participation in the program. Superpedestrian CEO Assaf Biderman said in a statement that the company was proud of the proposal it presented. “We know this is just a beginning, and there are more communities in every corner of the city that are calling out for new, safe and sustainable transportation options–something we can deliver,” he said.

Despite general fanfare, there may be a limit to how far operations can spread beyond the Bronx in the future. The first phase of the pilot covers neighborhoods in the East Bronx spanning from Eastchester to Van Nest; the second phase extends south to Soundview and east to Edgewater with another 4,000 to 6,000 scooters. The DOT said it chose these geographic boundaries to reach transit deserts that are unserved by existing bike share programs.

That last bit is important to note. Lyft-owned Citi Bike has a monopoly over shared micromobilty in NYC, with bike docks all over Manhattan and in parts of Brooklyn, Queens and the South Bronx. While 2018 legislation that allowed for the introduction of dockless e-scooters in NYC aims to “prioritize” hoods with no access to Citi Bike, the pilot zones were designed specifically to avoid overlap with Bronx neighborhoods targeted by the docked bike share’s expansion plans. 

What to expect from the e-scooter pilot in the Bronx

Aside from operating in alignment with NYC’s Vision Zero and equity goals, the DOT chose companies that would play ball with the city’s strong enforcement mechanisms, and that very much includes managing sidewalk clutter with dedicated parking corrals and fleet management software, a DOT spokesperson told TechCrunch. 

Lime intends to combine its corral and lock-to parking strategies for the first time in NYC to ensure its Gen 3 and Gen 4 scooters don’t become a bother to the community. It’ll also rely on its backend fleet management software and a “tidy crew” that will patrol the pilot area to rebalance scooters. 

“At high traffic locations like transit stations, riders must park in physical parking corrals enforced using Lime’s industry-leading geofence technology,” Phil Jones, Lime’s senior government relations director told TechCrunch. Lime uses a combination of onboard and cloud computing to determine the locations of geofences, so it’ll be interesting to see how this tech holds up in such a dense city, where even Google Maps often has trouble placing individuals. “Using our LimeLocks, riders must lock their e-scooters at bike racks or other places where traditional bike parking is permitted.”

Veo also plans to implement lock-to parking to keep scooters from falling over or blocking sidewalks.  

The pilot will cover an 18-square-mile area that’s home to 570,000 residents, 80% of whom are black or Latino. The median household income in the Bronx is $40,088 with a poverty rate of 26.2%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, so equity was top of mind for the city when evaluating operators. 

Bird already has an Access program that offers unlimited rides to low-income residents who are on government assistance for $5 a month, and even allows riders to pay with cash and unlock vehicles via SMS. Veo has an access program, but unclear what terms

Lime’s Access Program is similar, in that it offers 50% off rides to those on public assistance, but with NYC the program will see a rebrand as Lime Aid and expand to cover frontline healthcare workers, teachers, and people in the performing arts, non-profit and hospitality sectors — those who have been most affected by the pandemic. Lime also has agreements with employment offices like BronxWorks and the Center for Employment Opportunities to source employees for the pilot locally.

About 11% of Bronx residents under the age of 65 have a disability, so the DOT also evaluated operators based on accessibility. Victor Calise, commissioner of the mayor’s office for people with disabilities, was one of the people on the grading panel, so Lime made a point of focusing on accessibility for the disabled community. 

Lime recently launched a program in San Francisco that allows people with disabilities to order an accessible scooter delivered to their house with 24 hours advance notice, and the company intends to try out the same service in New York. In preparation for the Bronx pilot, Lime designed and built seven different vehicle types to meet various physical abilities, including a three-wheeled, sit-down vehicle for someone who has challenges balancing; a two-wheeled sit-down for someone who can’t stand for long periods of time; a tandem scooter of sorts so someone who has trouble seeing or is blind can have a partner with full vision with them; and a tricycle with a shopping basket. These vehicles are available on demand and will be delivered directly to users upon request. 

[gallery ids="2138246,2138250,2138242"]

“We didn’t want to just think what might a disabled person want, but to actually go to the New York disabled community and learn from them,” said Jones, noting that Lime worked with New York’s Center for Independence of the Disabled, as well as other advocacy groups, prior to submitting its bid. “There’s a vocal and vibrant community here, and we are not just addressing their concerns around parking on the street, but how they can actually use our devices so we can provide a meaningful service to them.”

Veo will offer its stand-up Astro e-scooter and its futuristic-looking Cosmo seated e-scooter because seated rides are more accessible for many, especially those taking longer trips. The company has also stated that it’s committed to ADA compliance and will make electric-powered attachments that allow private non-motorized wheelchairs to operate as motorized devices available upon request.  

In terms of reducing traffic congestion and air pollution, Veo also touts its waterproof, durable, swappable batteries, which don’t require a gas-guzzling van to replace batteries but which can be done via cargo bike or even the Cosmo. Lime also has swappable batteries, but according to a November blog post, Bird has still not implemented this technology in full. 

To enhance safety, Bird recently launched Beginner Mode as a new feature built for the Bird Two alongside autonomous emergency braking and skid detection. This gives new riders a gentle acceleration option so they can gradually work their way up to full speed.  

China’s Xpeng in the race to automate EVs with lidar

By Rita Liao

Elon Musk famously said any company relying on lidar is “doomed.” Tesla instead believes automated driving functions are built on visual recognition and is even working to remove the radar. China’s Xpeng begs to differ.

Founded in 2014, Xpeng is one of China’s most celebrated electric vehicle startups and went public when it was just six years old. Like Tesla, Xpeng sees automation as an integral part of its strategy; unlike the American giant, Xpeng uses a combination of radar, cameras, high-precision maps powered by Alibaba, localization systems developed in-house, and most recently, lidar to detect and predict road conditions.

“Lidar will provide the 3D drivable space and precise depth estimation to small moving obstacles even like kids and pets, and obviously, other pedestrians and the motorbikes which are a nightmare for anybody who’s working on driving,” Xinzhou Wu, who oversees Xpeng’s autonomous driving R&D center, said in an interview with TechCrunch.

“On top of that, we have the usual radar which gives you location and speed. Then you have the camera which has very rich, basic semantic information.”

Xpeng is adding lidar to its mass-produced EV model P5, which will begin delivering in the second half of this year. The car, a family sedan, will later be able to drive from point A to B based on a navigation route set by the driver on highways and certain urban roads in China that are covered by Alibaba’s maps. An older model without lidar already enables assisted driving on highways.

The system, called Navigation Guided Pilot, is benchmarked against Tesla’s Navigate On Autopilot, said Wu. It can, for example, automatically change lanes, enter or exit ramps, overtake other vehicles, and maneuver another car’s sudden cut-in, a common sight in China’s complex road conditions.

“The city is super hard compared to the highway but with lidar and precise perception capability, we will have essentially three layers of redundancy for sensing,” said Wu.

By definition, NGP is an advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) as drivers still need to keep their hands on the wheel and take control at any time (Chinese laws don’t allow drivers to be hands-off on the road). The carmaker’s ambition is to remove the driver, that is, reach Level 4 autonomy two to four years from now, but real-life implementation will hinge on regulations, said Wu.

“But I’m not worried about that too much. I understand the Chinese government is actually the most flexible in terms of technology regulation.”

The lidar camp

Musk’s disdain for lidar stems from the high costs of the remote sensing method that uses lasers. In the early days, a lidar unit spinning on top of a robotaxi could cost as much as $100,000, said Wu.

“Right now, [the cost] is at least two orders low,” said Wu. After 13 years with Qualcomm in the U.S., Wu joined Xpeng in late 2018 to work on automating the company’s electric cars. He currently leads a core autonomous driving R&D team of 500 staff and said the force will double in headcount by the end of this year.

“Our next vehicle is targeting the economy class. I would say it’s mid-range in terms of price,” he said, referring to the firm’s new lidar-powered sedan.

The lidar sensors powering Xpeng come from Livox, a firm touting more affordable lidar and an affiliate of DJI, the Shenzhen-based drone giant. Xpeng’s headquarters is in the adjacent city of Guangzhou about 1.5 hours’ drive away.

Xpeng isn’t the only one embracing lidar. Nio, a Chinese rival to Xpeng targeting a more premium market, unveiled a lidar-powered car in January but the model won’t start production until 2022. Arcfox, a new EV brand of Chinese state-owned carmaker BAIC, recently said it would be launching an electric car equipped with Huawei’s lidar.

Musk recently hinted that Tesla may remove radar from production outright as it inches closer to pure vision based on camera and machine learning. The billionaire founder isn’t particularly a fan of Xpeng, which he alleged owned a copy of Tesla’s old source code.

In 2019, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Cao Guangzhi alleging that the former Tesla engineer stole trade secrets and brought them to Xpeng. XPeng has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Cao no longer works at Xpeng.

Supply challenges

While Livox claims to be an independent entity “incubated” by DJI, a source told TechCrunch previously that it is just a “team within DJI” positioned as a separate company. The intention to distance from DJI comes as no one’s surprise as the drone maker is on the U.S. government’s Entity List, which has cut key suppliers off from a multitude of Chinese tech firms including Huawei.

Other critical parts that Xpeng uses include NVIDIA’s Xavier system-on-the-chip computing platform and Bosch’s iBooster brake system. Globally, the ongoing semiconductor shortage is pushing auto executives to ponder over future scenarios where self-driving cars become even more dependent on chips.

Xpeng is well aware of supply chain risks. “Basically, safety is very important,” said Wu. “It’s more than the tension between countries around the world right now. Covid-19 is also creating a lot of issues for some of the suppliers, so having redundancy in the suppliers is some strategy we are looking very closely at.”

Taking on robotaxis

Xpeng could have easily tapped the flurry of autonomous driving solution providers in China, including Pony.ai and WeRide in its backyard Guangzhou. Instead, Xpeng becomes their competitor, working on automation in-house and pledges to outrival the artificial intelligence startups.

“The availability of massive computing for cars at affordable costs and the fast dropping price of lidar is making the two camps really the same,” Wu said of the dynamics between EV makers and robotaxi startups.

“[The robotaxi companies] have to work very hard to find a path to a mass-production vehicle. If they don’t do that, two years from now, they will find the technology is already available in mass production and their value become will become much less than today’s,” he added.

“We know how to mass-produce a technology up to the safety requirement and the quarantine required of the auto industry. This is a super high bar for anybody wanting to survive.”

Xpeng has no plans of going visual-only. Options of automotive technologies like lidar are becoming cheaper and more abundant, so “why do we have to bind our hands right now and say camera only?” Wu asked.

“We have a lot of respect for Elon and his company. We wish them all the best. But we will, as Xiaopeng [founder of Xpeng] said in one of his famous speeches, compete in China and hopefully in the rest of the world as well with different technologies.”

5G, coupled with cloud computing and cabin intelligence, will accelerate Xpeng’s path to achieve full automation, though Wu couldn’t share much detail on how 5G is used. When unmanned driving is viable, Xpeng will explore “a lot of exciting features” that go into a car when the driver’s hands are freed. Xpeng’s electric SUV is already available in Norway, and the company is looking to further expand globally.

Vietnamese electric motorbike startup Dat Bike raises $2.6M led by Jungle Ventures

By Catherine Shu

Son Nguyen, founder and chief executive officer of Dat Bike on one of the startup's motorbikes

Son Nguyen, founder and chief executive officer of Dat Bike

Dat Bike, a Vietnamese startup with ambitions to become the top electric motorbike company in Southeast Asia, has raised $2.6 million in pre-Series A funding led by Jungle Ventures. Made in Vietnam with mostly domestic parts, Dat Bike’s selling point is its ability to compete with gas motorbikes in terms of pricing and performance. Its new funding is the first time Jungle Ventures has invested in the mobility sector and included participation from Wavemaker Partners, Hustle Fund and iSeed Ventures.

Founder and chief executive officer Son Nguyen began learning how to build bikes from scrap parts while working as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. In 2018, he moved back to Vietnam and launched Dat Bike. More than 80% of households in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam own two-wheeled vehicles, but the majority are fueled by gas. Nguyen told TechCrunch that many people want to switch to electric motorbikes, but a major obstacle is performance.

Nguyen said that Dat Bike offers three times the performance (5 kW versus 1.5 kW) and 2 times the range (100 km versus 50 km) of most electric motorbikes in the market, at the same price point. The company’s flagship motorbike, called Weaver, was created to compete against gas motorbikes. It seats two people, which Nguyen noted is an important selling point in Southeast Asian countries, and has a 5000W motor that accelerates from 0 to 50 km per hour in three seconds. The Weaver can be fully charged at a standard electric outlet in about three hours, and reach up to 100 km on one charge (the motorbike’s next iteration will go up to 200 km on one charge).

Dat Bike’s opened its first physical store in Ho Chi Minh City last December. Nguyen said the company “has shipped a few hundred motorbikes so far and still have a backlog of orders.” He added that it saw a 35% month-over-month growth in new orders after the Ho Chi Minh City store opened.

At 39.9 million dong, or about $1,700 USD, Weaver’s pricing is also comparable to the median price of gas motorbikes. Dat Bike partners with banks and financial institutions to offer consumers twelve-month payment plans with no interest.

“These guys are competing with each other to put the emerging middle class of Vietnam on the digital financial market for the first time ever and as a result, we get a very favorable rate,” he said.

While Vietnam’s government hasn’t implemented subsidies for electric motorbikes yet, the Ministry of Transportation has proposed new regulations mandating electric infrastructure at parking lots and bike stations, which Nguyen said will increase the adoption of electric vehicles. Other Vietnamese companies making electric two-wheeled vehicles include VinFast and PEGA.

One of Dat Bike’s advantages is that its bikes are developed in house, with locally-sourced parts. Nguyen said the benefits of manufacturing in Vietnam, instead of sourcing from China and other countries, include streamlined logistics and a more efficient supply chain, since most of Dat Bike’s suppliers are also domestic.

“There are also huge tax advantages for being local, as import tax for bikes is 45% and for bike parts ranging from 15% to 30%,” said Nguyen. “Trade within Southeast Asia is tariff-free though, which means that we have a competitive advantage to expand to the region, compare to foreign imported bikes.”

Dat Bike plans to expand by building its supply chain in Southeast Asia over the next two to three years, with the help of investors like Jungle Ventures.

In a statement, Jungle Ventures founding partner Amit Anand said, “The $25 billion two-wheeler industry in Southeast Asia in particular is ripe for reaping benefits of new developments in electric vehicles and automation. We believe that Dat Bike will lead this charge and create a new benchmark not just in the region but potentially globally for what the next generation of two-wheeler electric vehicles will look and perform like.”

EV automaker Rivian partners with Samsung SDI in battery cell supply deal

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Rivian, the Amazon-backed EV manufacturer aiming to bring an electric pickup to market later this year, has partnered with Samsung SDI as its battery cell supplier, the company said Monday.

The two companies did not disclose the value of the deal or its term length, but in a statement released Monday Rivian said it had been working with Samsung SDI “throughout the vehicle development process.”

Rivian pointed out that its anticipated R1T pickup and R1S SUV, which Rivian calls “adventure vehicles,” require a battery module and pack that can handle extreme temperatures and durability use cases.

South Korea-based Samsung SDI already supplies battery cells to other automakers. In 2019, the company signed a $3.2 billion deal with BMW Group for a 10-year supply agreement.

“We’re excited about the performance and reliability of Samsung SDI battery cells combined with our energy-dense module and pack design,” Rivian CEO Rj Scaringe said in a statement. “Samsung SDI’s focus on innovation and responsible sourcing of battery materials aligns well with our vision.”

Domino’s, Nuro to begin autonomous pizza deliveries in Houston

By Rebecca Bellan

Starting this week, some Domino’s customers in Houston can have a pizza delivered without ever interacting with a human.

The pizza delivery giant said Monday it has partnered with autonomous delivery vehicle startup Nuro to allow select customers to have their pizzas dropped at their door via Nuro’s R2 robot.

“There is still so much for our brand to learn about the autonomous delivery space,” Dennis Maloney, Domino’s senior vice president and chief innovation officer said in a statement. “This program will allow us to better understand how customers respond to the deliveries, how they interact with the robot and how it affects store operations.”

On certain days and times, customers ordering from the Woodland Heights store on the Domino’s website can request R2, which uses radar, 360-degree cameras and thermal imaging to direct its movement. They’ll get texts to let them know where the robot is and what PIN they’ll need to access their pizza via the bot’s touchscreen.

Over the course of the pandemic, the contactless, autonomous food delivery industry has accelerated quickly, and Nuro is currently poised to become a leader in this space.

“Nuro’s mission is to better everyday life through robotics,” Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president, said in a statement. “We’re excited to introduce our autonomous delivery bots to a select set of Domino’s customers in Houston. We can’t wait to see what they think.”

This is the first time meals will be delivered by an electric, self-driving, occupant-less vehicle on the roads in Houston. Woodland Heights, which is mainly residential, is one of the oldest historic neighborhoods in Houston, flanked by the I-45 and I-10 highways. The Domino’s there is right on Houston Avenue, a main thoroughfare, making this a substantially challenging space in which to pilot this technology.

Nuro originally announced the Domino’s partnership and began testing in Houston in 2019. That same year, the company began deploying its vehicles to transport Kroger groceries in Houston and Phoenix. At the end of 2020, it was approved to begin testing on public roads in California, delivering goods from partners like Walmart and CVS. Nuro is the first company to be granted regulatory approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation for a self-driving vehicle exemption.

Domino’s appears to be Nuro’s first large foray into restaurant delivery, but it certainly won’t be the last. The company just announced its $500 million Series C round, funded in part by Chipotle. Woven Capital, the investment arm of Toyota’s innovation-focused subsidiary Woven Planet, also invested, kicking off the fund’s portfolio.

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

By Kirsten Korosec

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

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

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

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

The upshot: automakers are starting to make moves.

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

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

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

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

 Micromobbin’

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

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


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

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

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

New ride swag releases

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

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

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

Post-Rona public transit push

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

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

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

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

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

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

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

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

Other deals that got my attention this week …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery

Some interesting items this week.

Ride-hailing

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

Autonomous vehicles

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

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

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

Electric vehicles

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

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

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

eVTOLs

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

In-car tech

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

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

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cruise strikes deal to launch robotaxi service in Dubai

By Kirsten Korosec

Cruise has expanded its robotaxi ambitions beyond San Francisco. The autonomous vehicle subsidiary of GM that also has backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, Microsoft and Honda, has struck a deal to launch a robotaxi service in Dubai in 2023.

The robotaxi service in Dubai will use the Cruise Origin, the all-electric shuttle-like vehicle that has no steering wheel or pedals and is designed to travel at highway speeds. The Origin, which was unveiled in January 2020 will be manufactured by GM.

Cruise will establish a new local Dubai-based company which will be responsible for the deployment, operation and maintenance of the fleet.

The service will start with a limited number of vehicles with plans to scale up to 4,000 vehicles by 2030 as part of Dubai’s self-driving transport strategy,  according to Mattar Mohammed Al Tayer, the director-general and chairman of the board of the RTA. The robotaxis — and eventually the service — will be introduced gradually and limited to specific areas before expanding to other parts of the city.

Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed said the agreement with Cruise is a “major step towards realizing Dubai’s Self-Driving Transport Strategy aimed at converting 25% of total trips in Dubai into self-driving transport trips across different modes of transport by 2030.”

Importantly, Cruise has a lock on Dubai for at least a few years. Under the agreement, Cruise is the “exclusive provider” for self-driving taxis and ride-hailing services in Dubai until 2029. Al Tayer said the selection of Cruise was not taken lightly and involved a comprehensive, multi-year process.

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