Over the last couple of years, Robotic Process Automation or RPA has been red hot with tons of investor activity and M&A from companies like SAP, IBM and ServiceNow. UIPath had a major IPO in April and has a market cap over $30 billion. I wondered when Salesforce would get involved and today the company dipped its toe into the RPA pool, announcing its intent to buy German RPA company Servicetrace.
Salesforce intends to make Servicetrace part of Mulesoft, the company it bought in 2018 for $6.5 billion. The companies aren’t divulging the purchase price, suggesting it’s a much smaller deal. When Servicetrace is in the fold, it should fit in well with Mulesoft’s API integration, helping to add an automation layer to Mulesoft’s tool kit.
“With the addition of Servicetrace, MuleSoft will be able to deliver a leading unified integration, API management, and RPA platform, which will further enrich the Salesforce Customer 360 — empowering organizations to deliver connected experiences from anywhere. The new RPA capabilities will enhance Salesforce’s Einstein Automate solution, enabling end-to-end workflow automation across any system for Service, Sales, Industries, and more,” Mulesoft CEO Brent Hayward wrote in a blog post announcing the deal.
While Einstein, Salesforce’s artificial intelligence layer, gives companies with more modern tooling the ability to automate certain tasks, RPA is suited to more legacy operations, and this acquisition could be another step in helping Salesforce bridge the gap between older on-prem tools and more modern cloud software.
Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that it brings another dimension to Salesforce’s digital transformation tools. “It didn’t take Salesforce long to move to the next acquisition after closing their biggest purchase with Slack. But automation of processes and workflows fueled by realtime data coming from a growing variety sources is becoming a key to finding success with digital transformation. And this adds a critical piece to that puzzle for Salesforce/MulseSoft,” he said.
While it feels like Salesforce is joining the market late, in an investor survey we published in May Laela Sturdy, general partner at CapitalG told us that we are just skimming the surface so far when it comes to RPA’s potential.
“We’re a long way from needing to think about the space maturing. In fact, RPA adoption is still in its early infancy when you consider its immense potential. Most companies are only now just beginning to explore the numerous use cases that exist across industries. The more enterprises dip their toes into RPA, the more use cases they envision,” Sturdy responded in the survey.
Servicetrace was founded in 2004, long before the notion of RPA even existed. Neither Crunchbase nor Pitchbook shows any money raised, but the website suggests a mature company with a rich product set. Customers include Fujitsu, Siemens, Merck and Deutsche Telekom.
Luxury, technology and a whole lot of flash often go hand in hand. In the age of space-faring billionaires, we all expect the latest wiz-bang gadget to look like something from the future, right?
Not in Audi’s view. The 2022 Audi e-tron GT and RS e-tron GT are a pair of all-electric grand touring halo cars that don’t look like something from 2060. They look just like sleek gasoline-powered GTs, but beneath the skin, there’s a whole lot more power, technological pop and panache than the design implies at first glance.
The 2022 Audi e-tron GT and RS e-tron GT get a low-slung roofline, wide track and long wheelbase like those grand tourers of the past, with the addition of a few design flourishes to bring it in line with Audi’s subtle, yet luxurious aesthetic. While the e-tron GT and the RS e-tron GT were both produced alongside the Audi R8 (its roofline is lower than the R8) and borrow a few things from that iconic design, these electric grand tourers are a pair of beasts all their own.
Based on the same 800-volt architecture as the Porsche Taycan, the e-tron GT makes 469 combined horsepower (up to 522 hp with overboost) from a pair of dual, permanent-magnet motors powering the front and rear wheels. The RS e-tron GT makes 590 (637 hp with overboost) horsepower from those same motors and Audi says it can do 0-60 in 3.1 seconds.
Both vehicles are capable, confident and quick and don’t tarry on mountain roads or long highway stretches. Acceleration is almost seamless, as it is in most electric vehicles.
Thanks to Audi’s electric quattro all-wheel drive with torque vectoring system, both vehicles are sure-footed and well sorted, even when the wheels start to squeal. This system allows a variable amount of power to be sent to wheels that slip when cornering hard, making a sudden lane change, or driving in slippery conditions.
The vehicles I drove were outfitted with summer tires, and I got to test a bit of this out on a closed slalom course with a sudden lane change at the end at the Agua Dulce Airpark about 50 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. I ran the RS e-tron GT through the cones three consecutive times to get a feel for the system and each time the car felt secure, planted and under control.
Both the e-tron GT and the RS e-tron GT also get optional rear-wheel steering. Under 30 mph, the rear wheels can turn up to 2.8 degrees in the opposite direction to the front wheels to help make the turning radius of the e-tron GT and the RS e-tron GT smaller. Above 30 mph the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the front. This system is similar (with fewer degrees of rotation) to that in the Porsche Taycan.
While I did not get to try out overboost in either vehicle on the smooth tarmac at the airpark, I did run a series of back-to-back 0 to 100 mph accelerations using launch control in the RS e-tron GT. Amongst the cohort of journalists there, I came in second, doing 0-60 in 3.24 seconds and 0-100 in 7.29 seconds. In 102-degree heat, on cold tires, those numbers are plenty impressive. By the end of the runway, I saw speeds approaching 120 mph, 32 mph short of the electronically limited 155 mph, (152 mph in the e-tron GT) before hitting the brakes. After three back-to-back runs, the fully charged RS e-tron GT had only lost 20 miles of range.
The EPA-estimated range for the RS e-tron GT is 232 miles while the e-tron GT is estimated to get 239 miles of range.
Those estimated EPA ranges are a result of the low-slung 93 kWh battery pack (the same in both vehicles) that Audi says can charge up to 80% in 23 minutes on 270-volt chargers (DC fast charging).
The e-tron GT starts at $99,900 and the RS e-tron GT pops to a higher $139,900 (both excluding the $1,045 destination charge). That price tag does come with one-time limited benefit.
Audi paired up with Electrify America to offer free, unlimited public charging for three years (without time restrictions). They also offer at-home charging stations set up through Qmerit. Both the e-tron GT and the RS e-tron GT come with standard dual charging ports and a 9.6 kW charging system with 240-volt capability so that owners can charge anywhere. Electrify America was launched by the Volkswagen Group, which owns Audi, following the Dieselgate scandal.
Finding any charger is available through the infotainment system, known as the MMI, and the 10.1-inch touchscreen in the center console. Head to navigation and then hit the icon marked with a plug and a list of chargers near you will populate.
While I didn’t get the opportunity to try to find chargers on the one-day drive, Audi says that finding EA chargers and their status and availability is easy through both Audi’s MyAudi app (available via smartphone and desktop), and through the MMI. Audi says that drivers can sort by their preferred charging level (Level 1 through DC fast chargers) and navigate to the charger all without leaving Audi’s in-vehicle interface.
Drivers can also perform the search on their phone through EA’s app or through the MyAudi app and send directions to the car either via wireless CarPlay, which is currently available or wireless Android Auto, which is coming on production models, though it wasn’t available in the e-tron GT or the RS e-tron GT that I drove. Drivers can also connect their smartphone through a USB-C port located in the center armrest.
I didn’t get to try the MyAudi app since I am not an owner (it requires tying the vehicle’s VIN to the app to ensure that privacy is maintained), but Audi says that drivers can plan a route on their MyAudi app, and the system will automatically include charge stops along the way to ensure that they arrive with plenty of battery in reserve.
For those luxury buyers who want a bit more support to make a seamless transition to an all-electric luxury car, Audi is launching what they call Audi Care for EVs with the e-tron GT and RS e-tron GT. At participating dealers, owners can pay an additional $999 plus tax to get vehicle servicing for four years that includes high-wear items like wipers and brake pads, available valet pick-up and drop-off for service appointments, mobile service (tire changes, basic maintenance) and, if an owner needs it, up to 10 free tows to an Audi center per year. Audi is also offering seven free days of rentals from Audi by Silvercar with the purchase of an e-tron GT or a RS e-tron.
The e-tron GT and the RS e-tron GT blend features from both the e-tron (the SUV) and the Audi R8, and both GTs get dual screens that offer tons of features for drivers and passengers. The 12.3-inch virtual cockpit in front of the driver is highly customizable, like it is on most modern Audis today, offering everything from map views to battery status access with few simple inputs on the steering wheel.
The system makes navigating a breeze and drivers or passengers can use voice control to set destinations by simply pressing the button on the steering wheel and giving the car an address, point of interest or city.
The voice system is surprisingly robust and while it was a bit laggy when I used it, it recognizes natural language inputs and verbally prompts the speaker to use specific terms when choosing between two options — say canceling a route and putting in a new destination versus making a stopover. Never once did I have to try multiple times to get the system to recognize what I wanted to do.
The 10.1-inch infotainment system in the center console offers everything from drive mode selection to specific Audi apps, navigation options, optional massage, heat and cooled seats, and much more.
The Audi MMI center screen is touch capacitive and users can drag and drop icons around, allowing owners and their passengers to customize the home screen in any way. The seat heater, cooler and the massage can all be run at the same time, should someone so desire (and have the right equipment), all from the MMI.
Both GTs are pushing $100,000, and for that, some buyers may want just a little bit more razzle dazzle.
For the launch year, Audi is offering one pricey, but special option on the RS e-tron GT: the Year One package. For $20,350, owners get the “carbon performance” package with features like carbon-fiber trim, illuminated door sills, black badges and rear-wheel steering, along with special 21-inch wheels, red ceramic brake calipers, red seatbelts and red stitching inside.
For those who want the prestige, power and advanced technology of a luxury brand, in an electric halo grand tourer that doesn’t (necessarily) come with all the flash, the 2022 Audi e-tron GT and Audi RS e-tron GT fit the bill. Both are on sale now.
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In case you missed it, our scoop machine Mark Harris was at it again. This time, he found some interesting and entertaining documents related to Elon Musk’s underground Loop system in Las Vegas received via a Freedom of Information Act. Among the treasure is a “ride script” that instructs drivers for the Loop system to bypass passengers’ questions about how long they have been driving for the company, declare ignorance about crashes, and shut down conversations about Musk himself.
The takeaway: the script shows just how serious The Boring Company, which built and operates the system, is about controlling the public image of the new system, its technology and especially Musk.
Importantly, the documents confirm that Autopilot, the advanced driver assistance system in the Tesla vehicles used in the Loop system, must be disabled.
This is a step outside the norm of what I usually think of when I think of micromobility (you’ll see what I did there in a second), but this week I wrote about a new in-shoe navigation system that helps the visually impaired walk around town.
Ashirase, as both the system and the name of the company is called, involves attaching a three-dimensional vibration device, including a motion sensor, inside a pair of shoes. This bit of hardware is connected to a smartphone app that someone with low vision can use to enter their destination. Vibrations in the front part of the shoe give the cue to walk straight, and vibrations on the left and right cue the user to make a left or right turn. The aim is to free up the hands while walking to use a cane and allow the walker to put more of their full attention on audio signals in the environment, thus making their commutes a bit more intuitive and their lives more independent.
It’s a really interesting bit of tech because it uses a similar stack to what we’re seeing in autonomous driving and advanced driver assistance systems. Which makes sense because that’s the founder’s background. Wataru Chino worked in Honda’s EV motor control and automated driving systems departments since 2009. His startup is a product of Honda’s incubator, Ignition, that features original technology, ideas, and designs of Honda associates with the goal of solving social issues and going beyond the existing Honda business.
Cabify recently announced a new feature that makes its rideshare service more accessible to the elderly, people with partial visual impairment and people with cognitive disabilities. The feature provides voice notifications to alert the user when a driver is on their way or has just arrived, when the ride starts, when a stop has been reached, when a message has come into the app’s chat, etc.
The notification makes use of a text-to-speech functionality that Android and iOS phones have.
“Apple and Google operating systems allow us to pronounce sentences with the system’s voice but we have developed the text and established the situations where we inform and draw the user’s attention,” a Cabify spokesperson told me.
And we’re back with the latest on Lime’s plans to take over the world, one electric scooter at a time. The micromobility goliath has announced an integration with the Moovit transit planning app. From Monday onwards, Moovit users in 117 cities across 20 countries will see Lime’s electric scooters, bikes and mopeds show up as an option for travel, either as the whole journey or as part of a multi-modal journey. This news follows a trend we’re seeing as cities start to see micromobility companies as less of a public nuisance and more of a public solution, particularly for first- and last-mile travel. Integrating with Moovit, an app that’s solely focused on public transportation, is a move that helps in the long run creating a broader transportation ecosystem.
Espin released its limited edition fixie style e-bike called the Aero. It’s just the thing for Seattle hipsters, particularly ones with a stick-and-poke bike tattoo. The bike frame is just as sleek as you’d expect from a single gear bike, all clean lines and comes in either a forest green or a smoke gray. The Aero can reach top speeds of 20 mph and can hit 30 miles on a single charge. Best of all, it doesn’t break the bank at $1,399.
Splach, which normally makes e-scooters and e-bikes, has come out with something it’s calling the Transformer. I truly don’t know how to categorize it but it looks like a lot of fun to ride. The company is calling the light-duty e-vehicle a “mini-moto Robust scooter specialized for rugged terrains.” It looks like a dirt bike has been sized way down and given a long neck so you can stand on it and still steer it. It also looks like it would indeed do well on rugged terrains, based on videos of people shredding down dirt paths. Splach used Indiegogo to fund the thing, and said it reached its goal within an hour.
Get ready to hear a lot more about supply chain constraints around batteries with virtually every automaker shouting out pledges to shift their entire portfolio away from internal combustion engines and towards electric powertrains.
Cell producers need access to the raw materials like nickel that are needed to make batteries. Mining those materials is the most common means, but that isn’t sustainable (and I’m not just talking about the environmental toll). JB Straubel, who is best known as the former Tesla co-founder and longtime CTO, is tackling the supply chain issue through his startup Redwood Materials. The battery recycling company is aiming to create a circular supply chain. This closed-loop system, Straubel says, will be essential if the world’s battery cell producers hope to have the supply needed for consumer electronics and the coming wave of electric vehicles.
High-profile investors like Amazon, funds managed by T. Rowe and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Ventures fund recognize the opportunity and have injected $700M in fresh capital into Redwood Materials. This is comically large compared to the startup’s last raise of $40 million. And sources tell me that this pushes Redwood Material’s valuation to $3.7 billion.
I interviewed Straubel about the raise and what struck me was how aggressively he wants to scale; he is treating this issue as if there is no time to lose — and he’s not wrong.
Other deals that got my attention this week …
Clarios, the maker of low-voltage vehicle batteries, postponed its IPO, citing market volatility, Bloomberg reported. the Milwaukee area-based company backed by Brookfield Asset Management had filed to raise $1.7 billion by offering 88.1 million shares at a price range of $17 to $21.
Fisker, the electric vehicle startup turned publicly traded company via a SPAC, has turned investor to support EV charging company Allego. Fisker said it is investing $10 million in private-investment-in-public equity (PIPE) funding for the merger of Allego and special purpose acquisition company Spartan Acquisition Corp III. The merger puts Allego at a pro forma equity value of $3.14 billion.
Flock, which went from providing drone insurance to commercial vehicle insurance, raised $17 million in a Series A funding led by Social Capital, the investment vehicle run by Chamath Palihapitiya, best known as a SPAC investor and chairman of Virgin Galactic. Flock’s existing investors Anthemis and Dig Ventures also participated. This round brings Flock’s total funding to $22 million. Justin Saslaw (Social Capital’s fintech partner) joins Flock’s board of directors, as does Ross Mason (founder of Dig Ventures and MuleSoft).
HappyFresh, the on-demand grocery app based in Indonesia, raised $65 million in a Series D round led by Naver Financial Corporation and Gafina B.V., with participation from STIC, LB and Mirae Asset Indonesia and Singapore. It also included returning investors Mirae-Asset Naver Asia Growth Fund and Z Venture Capital. The company’s previous round of funding was a $20 million Series C announced in April 2019.
Lordstown Motors got a lifeline from a hedge fund managed by investment firm Yorkville Advisors about five weeks after the automaker issued a warning that it might not have enough funds to bring its electric pickup truck to market. The hedge fund agreed to buy $400 million worth of shares over a three-year period, according to a regulatory filing.
Merqueo, the on-demand delivery service that operates in Latin America, raised $50 million in a Series C round of funding co-led by IDC Ventures, Digital Bridge and IDB Invest. MGM Innova Group, Celtic House Venture Partners, Palm Drive Capital and previous shareholders also participated. The financing brings the Bogota, Colombia-based startup’s total raised to $85 million since its 2017 inception.
Niron Magnetics, a company developing permanent magnets free of rare earths, raised $21.3 million in new financing from the Volvo Cars Tech Fund and Volta Energy Technologies, which joined existing investors Anzu Partners and the University of Minnesota. Niron will use the funding to build its pilot production facility in Minnesota.
Onto, the EV car subscription company raised $175 million in a combined equity and debt Series B round. The equity piece was led by Swedish VC Alfvén & Didrikson. British investment company Pollen Street Capital provided the senior-secured asset-backed debt facility. The company, which has raised a total of $245 million, says it plans to double its fleet size every three to six months and that any new vehicles will be used as collateral. Onto did not disclose how much of the round came from equity versus debt.
Zūm, a student transportation startup, was awarded a five-year $150 million contract to modernize San Francisco Unified School District transport service throughout the district. Zūm, which already operates its rideshare-meets-bus service in Oakland, much of Southern California, Seattle, Chicago and Dallas, will be responsible for handling day-to-day operations, transporting 3,500 students across 150 school campuses starting this fall semester.
I hear things. But I’m not selfish. Let me share!
You might have missed my article late Friday about Argo AI landing a permit in California that will allow the company to give people free rides in its self-driving vehicles on the state’s public roads.
Tl;dr: The California Public Utilities Commission issued Argo the so-called Drivered AV pilot permit, which is part of the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot. This puts Argo in a small and growing group of companies seeking to expand beyond traditional AV testing — a signal that the industry, or at least some companies, are preparing for commercial operations.
Regulatory hurdles remain and don’t expect Argo to be offering and charging for “driverless” rides anytime soon. But progress is being made and I would expect the company to secure the next permit — in a long line of them — later this year.
Argo has never officially indicated what city it is targeting for a robotaxi service in California. The company has been testing its autonomous vehicle technology in Ford vehicles around Palo Alto since 2019. Today, the company’s test fleet in California is about one dozen self-driving test vehicles. It also has autonomous test vehicles in Miami, Austin, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh and Detroit. (In July, Argo and Ford announced plans to launch at least 1,000 self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network in a number of cities over the next five years, starting with Miami and Austin.)
I’m hearing from some sources familiar with Argo’s strategy for California that we should look south of the Bay Area. Way south.
The city that jumps to mind is San Diego. Some AV companies are already playing around the Irvine area and Los Angeles seems too unwieldy. Plus, Ford already has a footprint in San Diego. The automaker partnered way back in 2017 with AT&T, Nokia and Qualcomm Technologies to test Cellular vehicle-to-everything (CV2X) at the San Diego Regional Proving Ground with the support of the San Diego Association of Governments, Caltrans, the city of Chula Vista, and intelligent transportation solutions provider McCain. The upshot of these trials? To improve traffic efficiency, vehicle safety and “support a path towards autonomous vehicles.”
Hi everyone. Let’s dive into two key pieces of proposed legislation this week: the infrastructure bill and the tailpipe emissions standards.
After months of negotiations, U.S. senators have finally settled on a $550 billion infrastructure package that includes investments in roads, bridges, broadband and more. The bill would provide $7.5 billion to electrify buses and ferries, including school buses, and $7.5 billion to build out a national network of public EV charging stations. Subsequent statements on the bill from the White House say directly that the EV investments are intended to keep the U.S. competitive on the world stage: “U.S. market share of plug-in electric vehicle (EV) sales is only one-third the size of the Chinese EV market. The President believes that must change.”
The budget is just a fraction of the $2.25 trillion bill President Joe Biden originally introduced in March. That version of the bill earmarked billions more for transportation electrification, especially in rebates and incentives to get consumers buying more EVs. The bill is still with the Senate for final approval. Then it will head to the House before finally ending up on Biden’s desk.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation have proposed rules that would beef up tailpipe emissions standards, which had been rolled back under President Donald Trump. The rules would be identical to the agreement the state of California reached with Ford, VW, Honda, BMW and Volvo in 2019, the AP reported. If approved, the rules would apply starting with model year 2023 vehicles.
The aim is to cut carbon emissions from transportation and encourage more people to buy hybrid and electric. But many environmental groups like the Sierra Club — plus some EV automakers — don’t think they go far enough.
“This draft proposal would drive us in the right direction after several years in reverse–but slowly getting back on track is not enough,” Chris Nevers, senior director of environmental policy at Rivian, told TechCrunch. EPA and NHTSA must maximize the stringency of the program beyond the voluntary deal and account for current and future developments in vehicle electrification.
One more thing that caught my eye this week…The Washington Post reported that Biden and a group of automakers are negotiating for the latter group to make a “formal pledge” to have at least 40% of all vehicles sold in 2030 to be electric. The article doesn’t specify which OEMs are part of the talks. However, it’s hard to imagine automakers signing onto anything — even a “voluntary pledge” — without some hefty federal spending to go along with it. We’ll have to see if the provisions in the infrastructure bill are enough.
— Aria Alamalhodaei
As per ushe, there was a ton of transportation news this week. Let’s dig in.
Yep, ADAS gets its own section now in an effort to make it abundantly clear that advanced driver assistance systems are not self-driving cars. Never. Never ever.
New York Times’ Greg Bensinger weighs in on beta testing and Tesla in this opinion column.
Aurora co-founder and chief product officer Sterling Anderson put out a blog and a bunch of tweets to layout a blueprint for an autonomous ride-hailing business that will launch in late 2024 with partners Toyota and Uber. Aurora has spent the past year or so pushing its messaging on self-driving trucks, which the company says is its best and most viable first commercial product. Aurora never entirely ditched the robotaxi idea, but it was pretty quiet on the topic. Until now.
The blog comes about a week after competitor Argo AI and Ford announced a partnership with Lyft. While the timing might not be related, it does show that competition is heating up in both areas — robotaxis and self-driving trucks — with every AV company keen to show progress and deep partnerships.
TuSimple, the self-driving truck company that went public earlier this year, has partnered with Ryder as part of its plan to build out a freight network that will support its autonomous trucking operations. Ryder’s fleet maintenance facilities will act as terminals for TuSimple’s so-called AFN, or autonomous freight network.
Ford released Wednesday its second quarter earnings for 2021, which besides containing a surprise profit despite the ongoing chip shortage, revealed that its F-150 Lightning electric pickup has generated 120,000 preorders since its unveiling in May. Ford reported revenue of $26.8 billion, slightly below expectations, and net income of $561 million in the second quarter.
Lucid Group (formerly Lucid Motors) will be expanding its factory in Casa Grande, Arizona, by 2.7 million square feet, CEO Pete Rawlinson said just hours after the company officially went public with a $4.5 billion injection of capital. The company also said it has 11,000 paid reservations for its flagship luxury electric sedan, the Lucid Air.
Polestar said it plans to launch in nine more markets this year, doubling its global presence as it seeks to sell more of its electric sedans. The company, which is the electric performance vehicle brand under Volvo Car Group, also wants to double the number of retail stores to 100 locations and add more service centers by the end of the year. The Swedish automaker has more than 650 so-called “service points” in Polestar markets and wants to exceed 780 by the end of 2021.
REE Automotive has picked Austin for its U.S. headquarters. The company said the headquarters will help it address the growing U.S. market demand for mission-specific EVs from delivery and logistics companies, Mobility-as-a-Service and new technology players.
Tesla reported its second-quarter earnings and it was packed with news, including that the company generated $1.14 billion in net income, marking the first time the company’s quarterly profit (on a GAAP basis) has passed the three-comma threshold. And they hit that profitability metric without completely relying on the sale of zero-emissions credits to other automakers.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk weighed in on the company’s battery strategy and disclosed that the company is pushing the launch of its electric Semi truck program to 2022 due to supply chain challenges and the limited availability of battery cells. And everything is pointing to the Cybertruck also being delayed until next year.
And finally, Tesla’s latest quarterly earnings report showed growth in its energy storage and solar business. The company reported $801 million in revenue from its energy generation and storage business — which includes three main products: solar, its Powerwall storage device for homes and businesses, and its utility storage unit Megapack. More importantly, the cost of revenue for its solar and energy storage business was $781 million, meaning that for the first time the total cost of producing and distributing these energy storage products was lower than the revenue it generated. That’s good news.
Joby Aviation completed the longest test flight of an eVTOL to date: Its unnamed full-sized prototype aircraft concluded a trip of over 150 miles on a single charge. The test was completed at Joby’s Electric Flight Base in Big Sur, California, earlier this month. It’s the latest in a succession of secretive tests the company’s been conducting, all part of its goal to achieve certification with the Federal Aviation Administration and start commercial operations.
Lilium, the electric air taxi startup, has tapped German manufacturer Customcells to supply batteries for its flagship seven-seater Lilium Jet.
AEye, a lidar company, has been adding to its executive team in the past few months. The most recent is the hiring of automotive veteran and former Valeo executive Bernd Reichert as senior vice president of ADAS. the company has also hired Velodyne’s former COO Rick Tewell, Bob Brown from Cepton and Hod Finkelstein as chief research and design officer from Sense Photonics.
Cruise is also on a bit of an executive and engineering hiring spree. The company sent me a list of recent folks who have joined including former Southwest Airlines employee Anthony Gregory as VP of market development, Phil Maher, the former Virgin Atlantic COO, as VP of central operations and Bhavini Soneji as VP of product engineering. Soneji was most recently VP of engineering at Headspace, and was at Microsoft and Snapchat before that.
Cruise also hired Vinoj Kumar, who oversaw Google’s cloud infrastructure and software systems, as VP of Infrastructure and Yuning Chai, former lead perception researcher at Waymo, as head of AI Research. In all, Cruise now employs more than 1,900 people.
Don Burnette, the co-founder and CEO of self-driving trucks company Kodiak Robotics, sat down with TechCrunch as part of our ongoing Q&A series with the founders of transportation startups. The interview covers a lot of ground, including Burnette’s views on the company’s strategy, current funding conditions in the industry and what he learned at Otto. the self-driving trucks startup he co-founded and that was acquired by Uber.
Trevor Milton, the fast-talking showman founder of Nikola and the electric truck startup’s former CEO and executive chairman, was charged with three counts of fraud. He is free on $100 million bail.
Milton “engaged in a fraudulent scheme to deceive retail investors” for his own personal benefit, according to the federal indictment unsealed by U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Milton was charged with two counts of securities fraud and wire fraud by a federal grand jury.
TuSimple, the self-driving truck company that went public earlier this year, has partnered with Ryder as part of its plan to build out a freight network that will support its autonomous trucking operations.
Under the deal announced this week, Ryder’s fleet maintenance facilities will act as terminals for TuSimple’s freight network. TuSimple’s so-called AFN, or autonomous freight network, is a collection of shipping routes and terminals designed for autonomous trucking operations that will extend across the United States by 2024. UPS, which took a minority stake in TuSimple before it went public, carrier U.S. Xpress, Penske Truck Leasing and Berkshire Hathaway’s grocery and food service supply chain company McLane Inc. were the inaugural partners in the network.
TuSimple’s AFN involves four pieces that includes its self-driving trucks, digital mapped routes, freight terminals and a system that will let customers monitor autonomous trucking operations and track their shipments in real-time.
Ryder’s facilities will primarily serve as strategic terminals where TuSimple trucks can receive maintenance and have sensors used in the self-driving system calibrated, if needed. In some cases, the terminals might be used as a transfer hub for smaller operator that might want to pick up cargo. But this is not meant to be a hub-to-hub system where its customers would come and pick up freight, according to TuSimple President and CEO Cheng Lu.
“These trucks needs to be serviceable and maintainable and they need to have higher uptime, which is what every carrier cares about regardless of whether it is autonomous or not,” Lu said.
Small shippers and carriers might use these terminals to pick up and drop off freight. However, Lu stressed that in most cases, especially large-scale operators UPS, TuSimple will take the freight directly to the customer’s distribution centers. The Ryder facilities work as nodes, or stops, on its network to allow TuSimple to reach more customers over a larger geographic area, Lu added.
The partnership will start gradually. TuSimple has 50 autonomous trucks in its fleet that — along with a human safety operator behind the wheel — transport freight for customers in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The partnership will initially use Ryder’s facilities in these areas and eventually expand to the company’s 500 maintenance facilities in the United States.
TuSimple said it expects to expand operations to the East Coast, carrying freight between Phoenix and Orlando later this year. TuSimple has about 25 new trucks on order, which will be added to the fleet once they become available.
Outvio, an Estonian startup that provides a white-label SaaS fulfillment solution for medium-sized and large online retailers in Spain and Estonia, has closed a $3 million early-stage financing round led by Change Ventures. Also participating were TMT Investments (London), Fresco Capital (San Francisco), and Lemonade Stand (Tallinn). Several angels also joined the round including James Berdigans (Printify) and Kristjan Vilosius (Katana MRP). This is the startup’s first institutional round of funding, after bootstrapping since 2018.
Online retailers usually have to use a number of different tools or hire expensive developers to create in-house shipping solutions. Outvio offers online stores of any size a post-purchase shipping experience, which seeks to replicate an Amazon-style experience where customers can also return packages. Among others, itcompetes with ShippyPro, which runs out of Italy and has raised $5 million to date.
Juan Borras, co-founder and CEO of Outvio said: “We can give any online store all the tools needed to offer a superior post-sale customer experience. We can integrate at different points in their fulfilment process, and for large merchants, save them hundreds of thousands in development costs alone.”
He added: “What happens after the purchase is more important than most shops realize. More than 88% of consumers say it is very important for them that retailers proactively communicate every fulfilment and delivery stage. Not doing so, especially if there are problems, often results in losing that client. Our mission is to help online stores streamline everything that happens after the sale, fueling repeat business and brand-loyal customers with the help of a fantastic post-purchase experience.”
Rait Ojasaar, Investment Partner at lead investor Change Ventures commented: “While online retailing has a long way to go, the expectations of consumers are increasing when it comes to delivery time and standards. The same can be said about the online shop operators who increasingly look for more advanced solutions with consumer-like user experience. The Outvio team has understood exactly what the gap in the market is and has done a tremendous job of finding product-market fit with their modern fulfilment SaaS platform.”
The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has awarded Zūm, a startup that wants to upgrade student transportation, a five-year $150 million contract to modernize its transport service throughout the district.
Zūm, which already operates its rideshare-meets-bus service in Oakland, much of Southern California, Seattle, Chicago and Dallas, will be responsible for handling day-to-day operations, transporting 3,500 students across 150 school campuses starting this fall semester. The startup’s fleet of 206 buses, vans and cars is distributed based on specific use cases, placing students who live on busier routes on school buses and sending out cars and vans for others to increase efficiency. Zūm will also facilitate over 2,000 field trips per year for the school district.
Aside from Zūm’s five-year $53 million contract with Oakland Unified School District, which began in 2020, the SFUSD contract is the largest the startup has ever won. The company intends to use the funds to lease vehicles, hire drivers — a mix of salaried employees and gig economy workers — improve customer and operational support, and research and develop product enhancements to support the contract, a spokesperson for Zūm told TechCrunch.
Zūm’s transportation solution for SFUSD is expected to save the district $3 million per year on average, based on the cost of the incumbent’s solution.
“These savings are driven by our tech-driven route optimization and operations,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Zūm has absorbed all the drivers who were previously serving SFUSD. The buses previously used were old and owned by the incumbent and have been moved out of the city. Zūm has deployed a new fleet of connected school buses and other vehicles, which will be converted to electric by 2025.”
Along with its fleet, Zūm offers school districts a cloud-based dashboard that allows them to manage operations, track movements, plan budget use and analyze performance and service data — the kind of tech that makes sense for schools to have but still seems radical given how slowly the public sector moves.
“A major challenge we experienced in the past was gaining visibility into the location of students and buses across the district,” said Orla O’Keefe, chief of policy and operations at SFUSD, in a statement. “We hope and expect that our families will benefit from Zūm’s student-centered technology. Families will be able to track their child’s bus in real time and … easily communicate with the driver regarding their child or any unique circumstances that may arise.”
Included in the contract is Zūm’s goal to help SFUSD electrify its entire fleet by 2025. Last year, the SF District Board of Education adopted a resolution to modernize its transportation in a way that would create more efficiencies, help the district meet sustainability goals and increase transparency across the system. Zūm says this contract will mark the first time SFUSD has updated its transportation solution in 40 years.
Earlier this month, Zūm announced a partnership with AutoGrid, an energy management and distribution software company, to transform the company’s fleet of electric buses in San Francisco and Oakland into one of the world’s largest virtual power plants.
“These contracts are building blocks to Zūm and AutoGrid’s vision of creating a 1 gigawatt virtual power plant in the next four years,” said a Zūm spokesperson. “Oakland Unified and San Francisco Unified are the first two districts in the U.S. to commit to 100% conversion to an emission-free EV fleet. Between these two contracts, Zūm will be carrying around 60,000 kWh charge on its EV fleet battery. To put this in perspective, during a power outage this much storage energy can power around 47,000 households per hour.”
Trevor Milton, the fast-talking showman founder of Nikola and the electric truck startup’s former CEO and executive chairman, has been charged with three counts of fraud.
Milton “engaged in a fraudulent scheme to deceive retail investors” for his own personal benefit, according to the federal indictment unsealed by U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan on Thursday. Milton was charged with two counts of securities fraud and wire fraud by a federal grand jury.
Specifically, prosecutors detailed in the complaint how Milton used social media and frequent appearances on television in a PR blitz that flooded “the market with false and misleading information about Nikola” before the company even produced a product.
The charges reflect a fast and furious run for Nikola and Milton, who founded the company in 2015. Milton received more attention after unveiling the first prototype and boasted that the company would produce “the iPhone of trucking.” Promises around other products including an electric pickup truck called Badger would soon follow as well as plans to build a factory in Arizona.
In March 2020, the company announced it would go public via a merger with special purpose acquisition company VectoIQ Acquisition Corp. Milton frequently posted on Twitter directing his message to retail investors after the company went public that summer. Then in September and just days after GM had announced a $2 billion investment in the company, noted short-seller Hindenburg Research accused Nikola of fraud. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission opened an inquiry in the matter and within two weeks Milton had stepped down as executive chairman.
Nikola issued a statement Thursday that distances itself from Milton, who is still its largest shareholder.
Trevor Milton resigned from Nikola on September 20, 2020 and has not been involved in the company’s operations or communications since that time. Today’s government actions are against Mr. Milton individually, and not against the company. Nikola has cooperated with the government throughout the course of its inquiry. We remain committed to our previously announced milestones and timelines and are focused on delivering Nikola Tre battery-electric trucks later this year from the company’s manufacturing facilities.
Despite semiconductor shortages peaking during the second quarter of 2021, Ford says it delivered better-than-expected operating results by leveraging strong demand for new vehicles, like its Bronco SUV, according to its most recent earnings report.
In April, Ford had expected to lose about 50% of its planned Q2 production, resulting in a profit loss for the period. However, the automaker was able to generate companywide adjusted earnings before interest and taxes of $1.1 billion, according to the report.
With demand for the Mustang Mach-E, which CEO Jim Farley said is already profitable on Wednesday’s earnings call, and other Ford vehicles up 7x from last year, Farley said “the business is ‘spring loaded’ for a rebound when semiconductor supplies stabilize and more closely match demand,” according to a statement released by Ford.
Looking ahead, the company said it “has lifted its target for full-year adjusted free cash flow to between $4 billion and $5 billion, supported by expected favorable second-half working capital as vehicle production increases with anticipated improvement in availability of semiconductors.”
Outwardly, Ford appears to be optimistic, but when pressed during the call, Farley was slightly more cautious and realistic.
“We do see the chip issue running through this year and we could see it bleeding into the first part of next year,” he said. “We’ve had discussions with the FAB suppliers. They’re telling us that they’re reallocating capital, they’re increasing supply for automotive, etc. But I think this is one of those things where we need to see the relief coming through before we can really feel comfortable that we’re out of the woods here.”
Farley said the industry is seeing signs of improvement in the flow of chips now in the third quarter, but “the situation remains fluid.”
He’s not wrong. Semiconductor sales in May were up 4.1% over April, which saw sales increase 1.9% over March 2021, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association. Additionally, a World Semiconductor Trade Statistics report released in June forecasts global annual sales to increase 19.7% in 2021 and 8.8% in 2022. Earlier this month, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company said it expects the shortage of semiconductors in the manufacturing space to be greatly reduced starting this quarter due to its increased production efforts. The company said it already increased microcontroller unit production by 30% YOY in the first half of the year and intends to bring that up to over 30% pre-pandemic 2018 levels.
Sounds promising, but not everyone is on the same page here. Singapore-based Flex, a global chip manufacturer, recently warned that the global chip shortage would last into mid-2022, worsened by the increased demand for cars, especially electric ones, as well as pandemic-induced purchases of video game consoles, tablets, laptops and other entertaining electronics.
Just as Ford is trying to reduce battery supply anxiety by becoming the manufacturer via battery cell partnerships with SK Innovation, Farley said Ford is also working closely with semiconductor fabricators and suppliers to help them with future projections of how many chips it expects to need.
A big reason there’s a semiconductor shortage is because automakers cut their orders when the pandemic caused a drop in sales last spring. But when Q3 2020 rolled around and demand for passenger vehicles rebounded, chipmakers were already spoken for, filling orders from customers in consumer electronics and IT.
In Ford’s defense, it’s not easy to predict a pandemic and how many chips one would need for that. Let’s hope this doesn’t lead to a hoarding scenario like the Great Toilet Paper Crisis of 2020.
Ford and its F-150 pickup, the automaker’s best-selling vehicle, have consistently inspired brand loyalty from pickup truck owners. According to the J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Automotive Brand Loyalty Study, Ford has a 54.3% loyalty rate. Now as the automaker moves to electrify its fleet, it seems to be bringing in fresh buyers.
Ford released Wednesday its second quarter earnings for 2021, which besides containing a surprise profit despite the ongoing chip shortage, revealed that its F-150 Lightning electric pickup has generated 120,000 preorders since its unveiling in May. Ford reported revenue of $26.8 billion, slightly below expectations, and net income of $561 million in the second quarter.
To be clear, these are not orders and don’t reflect exactly how many of these vehicles Ford will sell. Customers can reserve one of these EVs by placing a refundable $100 deposit.
However, it does provide some insight into demand.
Importantly, three-quarters of those new orders come from customers that are new to Ford, according to the earnings release. During the call on Wednesday, CEO Jim Farley also said two out of five Lightning preorders are going to trade in an ICE pickup.
Not only does this potentially affect Ford’s sales, it also validates the company’s recent forays into battery production. Automakers across the world are engaging in battery joint ventures with cell and chemistry companies, and Ford is no different. The company has a partnership with SK Innovation to manufacture battery cells on American soil and is creating a battery R&D center in Michigan, a part of its $30 billion investment into electrification.
Increased sales can also help with Ford’s expensive undertaking to invest in embedded electrical architecture upgrade that allows Ford to more easily update future EVs and enable new connected capabilities, according to Farley.
“So when we talk about upgrading our electric vehicles, it’s much more fundamental than just the investment in the tooling and the engineering of the electric vehicle and its components and propulsion,” said Farley during the call. “It also includes a completely new approach to an embedded software and hardware system.”
The F-150 Lightning comes with a lot of upgrades that make it attractive to Ford newcomers willing to pay more than the $40,000 base price. It’s got the same torque and power as its gas counterpart, plus a hands-free ADAS BlueCruise system, a comprehensive infotainment unit and enough battery capacity to power your whole house in the event of an outage.
Farley also said during the call that the new Ford Maverick, a compact hybrid pickup which starts at $20,000, already has around 80,000 orders. The hybrid is marketed toward people who aren’t exactly pickup truck people, but who maybe want to dip their toes into that utility pool.
“The demand for our first round of high-volume EVs clearly has exceeded our most optimistic projections,” said Farley. “We’re now working around the clock to break constraints and increase our manufacturing capacity for these red-hot new battery electric vehicles”
According to the earnings report, the combined U.S. customer-sold retail order bank for the electric Mustang Mach-E and other Ford vehicles was seven times larger than at the same point last year. With demand increasing, Farley said the business is “spring loaded” for a rebound when semiconductor supplies stabilize.
Electric air taxi startup Lilium has tapped German manufacturer Customcells to supply batteries for its flagship seven-seater Lilium Jet.
The battery IP is the result of “multiple players,” a Lilium spokesperson told TechCrunch, but the manufacturing will be the sole job of Customcells. While Lilium declined to specify the number of battery systems as part of the agreement, it confirmed that Customcells will be manufacturing guaranteed capacity until 2026.
Customcells specializes in high-performance lithium-ion batteries for the aerospace, automotive and maritime industries. The manufacturer recently announced a new joint venture with luxury sports car maker Porsche AG, dubbed Cellforce Group, for the low-volume production of batteries for racing cars and performance vehicles.
This is just the latest partnership Lilium has announced in recent months as it prepares to shift into component and vehicle testing. The Munich-based eVTOL company has developed an international network of partnerships with suppliers like Japanese company Toray Industries for carbon fiber composite; Spanish aerospace supplier Aciturri for the jet’s airframe; and Palantir Technologies, one of its investors, for software services. In June, Lilium added aerospace manufacturing giant Honeywell to its roster for the jet’s flight control and avionics system.
Lilium’s decision to outsource major components to established manufacturers is a departure from many of the other leading eVTOL developers, like Joby Aviation, which have chosen to keep much of the engineering and production in-house. The strategy has a few advantages. For one, Lilium doesn’t have to spend millions – possibly hundreds of millions over time – in manufacturing facilities, or production and testing equipment. But the key advantage, Lilium executives suggest, may lie with the certification process.
Like other eVTOL manufacturers, the Lilium Jet must receive regulatory approval from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration in order to operate commercially in the EU and U.S., respectively. Lilium, in line with other major would-be players in the industry, has set an ambitious target of 2024 for commencing commercial operations. Established aerospace suppliers may use components that have already achieved a minimum performance standard recognized by regulators, which could save time in the certification process.
“Collaborating with experts, aerospace partners, is a deliberate choice for us,” Lilium’s chief program officer, Yves Yemsi, told TechCrunch earlier this year. “It will help us to reduce our time to market and still be safe.”
Drivers for Elon Musk’s underground Loop system in Las Vegas have been instructed to bypass passengers’ questions about how long they have been driving for the company, declare ignorance about crashes, and shut down conversations about Musk himself.
Using public records laws, TechCrunch obtained documents that detail daily operations at the Loop, which opened in June to transport attendees around the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) using modified Tesla vehicles. Among the documents is a “Ride Script” that every new recruit must follow when curious passengers ask questions.
The script shows just how serious The Boring Company (TBC), which built and operates the system, is about controlling the public image of the new system, its technology and especially its founder, Elon Musk.
“Your goal is to provide a safe ride for the passengers, not an entertaining ride. Keep conversation to a minimum so you can focus on the road,” advises the document. “Passengers will pepper you with questions. Here are some you may be asked and the recommended responses.”
If riders ask a driver how long they have been with the company, they are instructed to respond with: “Long enough to know these tunnels pretty well!” The document goes on to note: “Passengers will not feel safe if they think you’ve only been driving for a week (even though that could mean hundreds of rides). Accordingly, do not share how long you’ve been employed here, but instead, find a way to evade the question or shift the focus,” the document advises drivers.
When asked how many crashes the system has experienced (the script uses the term “accidents”), drivers are told to respond: “It’s a very safe system, and I’m not sure. You’d have to reach out to the company.” Riders should expect similarly vague responses if they wonder how many employees or drivers TBC has, or how much the tunnels cost to dig. (About $53 million in total).
The use of Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system that is branded “Autopilot” is clearly a sore point at TBC. Clark County does not currently permit the use of the various driver assistance features anywhere within the Loop system, including automatic emergency braking or technologies that make the vehicle aware of obstacles and keep the vehicle in lane.
Officials even require mechanics to check the vehicles to ensure these are not activated.
“In addition to completing the actions under the initial inspection checklist, maintenance staff will verify that the automatic features of the vehicle, such as steering and braking/acceleration/deceleration assist (commonly known as Autopilot) are disabled for manual loop operation,” the document reads. The following checks will be conducted on a daily basis by CWPM technicians, according to the Vehicle Maintenance plan viewed by TechCrunch.
If a passenger should ask whether the Loop’s Tesla vehicles use Autopilot, drivers will give a response. However, this content was marked “Public Safety Related Confidential” in the documents TechCrunch received and was redacted, as were many other technical details.
TechCrunch’s repeated requests to officials to explain this decision went unanswered.
The script also covers responses to questions about Musk himself: “This category of questions is extremely common and extremely sensitive. Public fascination with our founder is inevitable and may dominate the conversation. Be as brief as possible, and do your best to shut down such conversation. If passengers continue to force the topic, politely say, ‘I’m sorry, but I really can’t comment’ and change the subject.”
Nevertheless, the script provides a number of replies to common Musk questions. Ask what Musk is like and you should expect the answer: “He’s awesome! Inspiring / motivating / etc.”
Follow up with: “Do you like working for him?” and you’ll get a response that could have come straight from North Korea: “Yup, he’s a great leader! He motivates us to do great work.”
Should a customer wonder how involved Musk is in the business, the driver will tell them: “He’s the company founder, and has been very involved and supportive.” Questions about Musk’s erratic tweets will be brushed off: “Elon is a public figure. We’re just here to provide an awesome transportation experience!”
One question, however, seems to hint that not everyone is happy working for Musk: “Is it true what I’ve read about him in the papers that he [is a mean boss / smokes pot / doesn’t let employees take vacations / etc.]?” Your driver’s rather equivocal response will be: “I haven’t seen that article, but that hasn’t been my experience.”
On a side note: While the hundreds of pages of training documents and operational manuals that TechCrunch obtained detail strong policies against drug use and harassment at the Loop, the word “vacation” does not otherwise appear.
Because Clark County currently forbids the use of automated driving features in the Loop, human drivers could be part of the system for some time. But the system is home to plenty of other advanced technologies, according to design and operational documents submitted to Clark County. Each of the 62 Teslas in the underground Loop has a unique RFID chip — as used in contactless payment systems — that pinpoints its location when it passes over one of 55 antennas installed in the roadway, stations and parking stalls.
Each vehicle also streams data to 24 hotspots through the system, sharing its speed, state of charge, the number of passengers in the car, and whether they are wearing seatbelts. Riders should be aware that every car is also constantly streaming real-time video from a camera inside the passenger cabin. All this data, along with video from 81 fixed cameras throughout the Loop, is fed to an Operations Control Center (OCC) located a few blocks away from the Convention Center. Video is recorded and stored for at least two weeks.
In the OCC, an operator is monitoring the camera feeds and other sensors for security threats or other problems — such as a driver using their own cellphone or speeding. The OCC can communicate with any driver via a Bluetooth headset or an in-car iPad that displays messages, alerts and a map of the car’s location in the tunnels. Vehicles have strict speed limits, ranging from 10 mph within stations to 40 mph on straight tunnel sections, and must maintain at least 6 seconds of separation from the car in front.
During testing this spring, the documents reveal that Clark County officials found some drivers were not following all the rules. “When asked about the speed limitations, several drivers replied with wrong straightaway and/or curved tunnel speeds. None provided at station, express lane, or ramp speeds,” reads one document. “Drivers were not announcing to the passengers to buckle their seatbelts. When asked, [some were saying] that they are optional or not required.”
Several drivers were also failing to maintain the 6-second safety margin with cars in front. TBC told Clark County that it would provide refresher training in those areas.
TBC, Clark County, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which oversees the LVCC, did not reply to multiple requests for comment for this story.
The LVCVA recently signed a contract with Alphabet’s spin-out urban advertising agency, Intersection Media, to sell naming rights to the Loop system, which it hopes will net it $4.5 million.
TBC is currently building two extensions to the Loop to serve nearby hotels and ultimately wants to build a transit system covering much of the Strip and downtown Las Vegas with more than 40 stations. That system would be financed by TBC and supported by ticket sales.
Less than a year after its own SPAC merger, electric vehicle startup Fisker has turned investor to support EV charging company Allego.
Fisker is investing $10 million in private-investment-in-public equity (PIPE) funding for the merger of Allego and special purpose acquisition company Spartan Acquisition Corp III. The merger, announced Tuesday, puts Allego at a pro forma equity value of $3.14 billion.
The transaction is expected to inject the EV charging provider with $702 million in cash, including $150 million in PIPE from Fisker, investors Landis+Gyr, as well as funds and accounts managed by London-based VC firm Hedosophia and ECP. Funds managed by Apollo Global Management affiliates and Meridiam, the majority shareholder of Allego, also participated in the PIPE. (Apollo is in the process of acquiring Verizon Media Group, which includes TechCrunch.)
Fisker, the sole EV automaker contributing to the PIPE, is interested in Allego’s infrastructure. The company operates more than 26,000 charging points throughout Europe.
Fisker has agreed to “a strategic partnership to deliver a range of charging options for its customers in Europe,” according to Allego. It includes a provision granting a free year of charging on the Allego network to drivers that purchase Fisker Ocean SUV between the beginning of 2023 to March 31, 2024.
The two companies are also working on a “seamless charging experience” for Fisker drivers using Allego chargers, the EV maker said in a separate statement.
“Allego has been a long-standing pioneer in the push to create a seamless pan-European electric vehicle charging network,” CEO Henrik Fisker said. “Our investment in the PIPE is motivated by strategic and tactical considerations, ensuring we have a stake in the future of EV charging networks while delivering tangible benefits to our customers.”
California-based Fisker is aiming to start deliveries of its all-electric Ocean SUV in November 2022, but it hasn’t always been a smooth road to pre-production. Henrik Fisker, a serial automotive entrepreneur best known for being the designer behind luxury vehicles like the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, raised nearly $1 billion in last year’s SPAC merger with Apollo Global Management Inc. That deal skyrocketed the startup’s valuation to $2.9 billion, but expectations deflated somewhat after major deals with Volkswagen fell apart.
Fisker has taken an outsourcing approach to its roster of electric vehicles. The Ocean will be produced via a long-term manufacturing agreement with Magna, Inc. The company signed an additional agreement with Taiwanese company Foxconn, the lead manufacturer of iPhones, to develop a new EV by the end of 2023 that will be sold under the Fisker brand.
GM is rolling out three major upgrades including automatic lanes changes and towing support to its hands-free driver assistance system Super Cruise and making it available in six vehicles, including the 2022 all-new GMC Hummer EV pickup truck.
While GM has steadily improved Super Cruise since its introduction in 2017, for years it has been limited to its luxury Cadillac brand. The improvements and additional vehicles mark the automaker’s willingness — and perhaps readiness — to sell owners of its Chevrolet- and GMC-branded pickup trucks on the technology.
When GM launched Super Cruise, it was only available in one Cadillac model — the full-size CT6 sedan — and restricted to divided highways. That began to change in 2019 when GM announced plans to expand where Super Cruise would be available. Now the system can be activated on more than 200,000 miles of roads in the United States.
And GM is planning to expand even further. By 2023, GM aims to bring Super Cruise to 22 vehicles, including the upcoming EVs Cadillac Lyriq and GMC Hummer SUV.
The company said Friday it is adding automatic lane changes that function without a driver prompt to Super Cruise. This feature in the enhanced Super Cruise will be available in the 2022 Cadillac Escalade, Cadillac CT4, Cadillac CT5, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Hummer EV Pickup and GMC Sierra. GM has also developed and will launch a new feature that will allow drivers to engage the hands-free assistance system while trailering their boat or camper. This trailering feature will be available only in 2022 model year vehicles that have towing capability. Finally, GM has upgraded its in-car navigation to show drivers the highways where Super Cruise can be used.
Super Cruise uses a combination of lidar map data, high-precision GPS, cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system, which monitors the person behind the wheel to ensure they’re paying attention. Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system, users of Super Cruise do not need to have their hands on the wheel. However, their eyes must remain directed straight ahead.
The automatic lane change feature in Super Cruise will still require the driver to keep their eyes on the road. When the system is engaged, the driver no longer needs to engage the turn signal to indicate a desire to change lanes. Instead, the system, if engaged, will make the lane change on its own after alerting the driver. The system will move the vehicle to other lane to pass a slower vehicle.
The driver-prompted automatic lane change will be the default when the vehicle is towing a boat, camper or trailer.
All of these upgrades are possible thanks to GM’s newish digital vehicle platform called VIP, or vehicle intelligent platform, which provides more electrical bandwidth and data processing power, enabled engineers to add to Super Cruise’s capabilities. Vehicles equipped with this VIP electrical architecture can add features Super Cruise via over-the-air software updates. That means certain 2021 models, specifically the Cadillac Escalade, will get these new upgrades.
There are a couple of vehicles, namely the 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV, that have a different version of Super Cruise because it is not equipped the VIP. As a result, the Bolt EUV won’t get these upgrades.
Arrival, the commercial electric vehicle company that is shaking up the traditional auto production line with AI-run microfactories, has been chosen to build electric buses for the City of Anaheim, California.
The Federal Transportation Administration awarded Anaheim a $2 million grant in 2019, and on Thursday the city’s transportation network announced the plan to partner with Arrival to achieve its goal of running California’s first all-electric bus fleet by 2025.
The U.K.-based company said Anaheim, which operates transit services to and from Disneyland and other local attractions, would be the first customer for its lightweight-battery bus. Arrival will start with five 40-foot buses, but did not respond to requests for more information about when the buses would launch and when to expect more additions to the fleet.
The buses for Anaheim will be built in Arrival’s first U.S. microfactory in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Arrival’s other microfactory is in Charlotte, North Carolina, but the startup aims to have 31 microfactories all over the country by the end of 2024.
Arrival’s partnership with Anaheim Transportation Network also includes workforce development programs, according to a statement from the EV company. Local community colleges with electrical and mechanical engineering programs will be able to give eligible students internships to gain experience working with zero-emission transportation.
“The Arrival Bus will change the face of public transportation when it hits the roads,” said Mike Ableson, CEO of Arrival Automotive. “Our first order from a U.S. transit operator is just the beginning.”
Arrival, which recently went public via a SPAC merger, already has a number of notable partnerships. Last year, it signed an agreement with UPS to roll out an initial order of 10,000 electric delivery vehicles through 2024. In May the company partnered with Uber to create a purpose-built EV for ride-hailing, and just last week, the company announced an initial order of 3,000 EVs from LeasePlan, a Dutch “car-as-a-service” company.
The Tumblr community often refers to itself as the Wild West of the internet, and they’re not wrong. A text post with over 70,000 notes puts it best: “Tumblr is my favorite social media site because this place is literally uninhabitable for celebrities. No verification system, no algorithm that boosts their posts, it’s a completely lawless wasteland for them.”
But like any social media company, Tumblr needs to keep itself afloat in order for its users to continue sharing esoteric fan art, incomprehensible shitposts, and overly personal diary entries hidden beneath a “Read More” button. Yesterday, Tumblr announced the limited beta test of its Post+ subscription feature, which — if all goes as planned — will eventually let Tumblr users post paywalled content to subscribers that pay them $3.99, $5.99 or $9.99 per month.
Image Credits: Tumblr
Tumblr is far from the first social media platform to seek out revenue this way — Twitter is rolling out Super Follows and a Tip Jar feature, and this week, YouTube announced a tipping feature too. Even Instagram is working on its own version of Twitter’s Super Follows that would let users create “exclusive stories.” But on a website with a community that prides itself as being a “completely lawless wasteland” for anyone with a platform (save for Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman, who are simply just vibing), the move toward paywalled content was not welcomed with open arms.
Monetization is a double-edged sword. It’s not considered uncool for a Tumblr artist to link to a third-party Patreon or Ko-fi site on their blog, where their most enthusiastic followers can access paywalled content or send them tips. So Post+ seems like an obvious way for Tumblr to generate revenue — instead of directing followers to other websites, they could build a way for fans to support creators on their own platform while taking a 5% cut. This isn’t unreasonable, considering that Twitter will take 3% revenue from its new monetization tools, while video-centric platforms like YouTube and Twitch take 30% and 50%, respectively. But Tumblr isn’t Twitter, or YouTube, or Twitch. Unlike other platforms, Tumblr doesn’t allow you to see other people’s follower counts, and no accounts are verified. It’s not as easy to tell whether the person behind a popular post has 100 followers or 100,000 followers, and the users prefer it that way. But Post+ changes that, giving bloggers an icon next to their username that resembles a Twitter blue check.
A Tumblr Post+ creator profile
Tumblr rolled out Post+ this week to a select group of hand-picked creators, including Kaijuno, a writer and astrophysicist. The platform announced Post+ on a new blog specific to this product, rather than its established staff blog, which users know to check for big announcements. So, as the most public user who was granted access, the 24-year-old blogger was the target of violent backlash from angry Tumblrites who didn’t want to see their favorite social media site turn into a hypercapitalist hellscape. When Kaijuno received death threats for beta testing Post+, Tumblr’s staff intervened and condemned harassment against Post+ users.
“We want to hear about what you like, what you love, and what concerns you. Even if it’s not very nice. Tell us. We can take it,” Tumblr wrote on its staff blog. “What we won’t ever accept is the targeted harassment and threats these creators have endured since this afternoon. […] all they’re doing is testing out a feature.”
Before making their post, a representative from Tumblr’s staff reached out to Kaijuno directly to check in on them regarding the backlash, but there’s only so much that Tumblr can do after a user has already been threatened for using their product.
“I felt like the sacrificial lamb, because they didn’t announce Post+ beforehand and only gave it to a few people, which landed me in the crosshairs of a very pissed off user base when I’m just trying to pay off medical bills by giving people the option to pay for content,” Kaijuno told TechCrunch. “I knew there’d be some backlash because users hate any sort of change to Tumblr, but I thought that the brunt of the backlash would be at the staff, and that the beta testers would be spared from most of it.”
Why do Tumblr users perceive monetization as such a threat? It’s not a question of whether or not it’s valuable to support creators, but rather, whether Tumblr is capable of hosting such a service. Multiple long-time, avid Tumblr users that spoke to TechCrunch referenced an incident in late 2020 when people’s blogs were being hacked by spam bots that posted incessant advertisements for a Ray-Ban Summer Sale.
“Tumblr is not the most well-coded website. It’s easy to break features,” Kaijuno added. “I think anything involving trusting Tumblr with your financial information would have gotten backlash.”
Tumblr users also worried about the implications Post+ could have on privacy — in the limited beta, Post+ users only have the ability to block people who are subscribed to their blog if they contact Tumblr support. In cases of harassment by a subscriber, this could leave a blogger vulnerable in a potentially dangerous situation.
“Ahead of our launch to all U.S.-based creators this fall, Post+ will allow creators to block subscribers directly,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Still, the Extremely Online Gen Z-ers who now make up 48% of Tumblr know that they can’t expect the platform to continue existing if it doesn’t pull in enough money to pay for its staff and server fees. In 2018, Tumblr lost almost one-third of its monthly page views after all NSFW content was banned — since then, the platform’s monthly traffic has remained relatively stagnant.
Image Credits: SimilarWeb
A former Tumblr employee told TechCrunch that the feature that became Post+ started out as a Tip Jar. But higher-ups at Tumblr — who do not work directly with the community — redirected the project to create a paywalled subscription product.
“I think a Tip Jar would be a massive improvement,” said the creator behind the Tumblr blog normal-horoscopes. Through the core audience they developed on Tumblr, they make a living via Patreon, but they don’t find Post+ compelling for their business. “External services [like Patreon] have more options, more benefits, better price points, and as a creator I get to choose how I present them to my audience.”
But a paywalled subscription service is different in the collective eyes of Tumblr. For a site that thrives on fandom, creators that make fan art and fanfiction worry that placing this derivative work behind a paywall — which Post+ encourages them to do — will land them in legal trouble. Even Archive of Our Own, a major fanfiction site, prohibits its users from linking to sites like Patreon or Ko-Fi.
“Built-in monetization attracts businesses, corporate accounts, people who are generally there to make money first and provide content second,” said normal-horoscopes. “It changes the culture of a platform.”
Across Tumblr, upset users are rallying for their followers to take Post+’s feedback survey to express their frustrations. The staff welcomes this.
“As with any new product launch, we expect our users to have a healthy discussion about how the feature will change the dynamics of how people use Tumblr,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Not all of this feedback will be positive, and that’s ok. Constructive criticism fuels how we create products and ultimately makes Tumblr a better place.”
Tumblr’s vocal community has been empowered over the years to question whether it’s possible for a platform to establish new revenue streams in a way that feels organic. The protectiveness that Tumblr’s user base feels for the site — despite their lack of faith in staff — sets it apart from social media juggernauts like Facebook, which can put ecommerce front and center without much scrutiny. But even three years after the catastrophic porn ban, it seems hard for Tumblr to grow without alienating the people that make the social network unique.
Platforms like Reddit and Discord have remained afloat by selling digital goods, like coins to reward top posters, or special emojis. Each company’s financial needs are different, but Tumblr’s choice to monetize with Post+ highlights the company’s lack of insight into its own community’s wishes.
Waymo, Google’s former self-driving car project that’s now an independent business unit under Alphabet, is expanding its presence in the eastern U.S. The company said Thursday it would be opening offices in Pittsburgh, joining a growing suite of companies developing and testing autonomous vehicle technology in the Steel City.
The company will start by hiring around a dozen engineers, a source familiar with the move told TechCrunch, and they’ll co-locate in Google’s existing offices in the Bakery Square district. As of Thursday, only around three open positions for the Pittsburgh area were listed on Waymo’s website, but the company will be adding more roles soon.
Some of the new team will come from Pittsburgh-based RobotWits, a tech startup focused on autonomous vehicle decision-making. That includes RobotWits’ founder and CEO Maxim Likhachev, and other members of its engineering and technical team. While Waymo did not technically acquire the startup, it did acquire RobotWits’ IP rights, the source said.
There are no current plans to deploy the so-called Waymo Driver, its autonomous driving platform, in Pittsburgh, the source added. Instead, the new team will work on motion planning development, real-time route planning and developing Driver. Thus far, Driver has seen deployment in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area. Its Waymo Via trucking and cargo service will be deployed in a test run with trucking logistics company J.B. Hunt Transport Services in Texas.
AV tech rivals Aurora, Motional, Argo AI have already established offices in the city; combined with talent at Carnegie Melon University, the city has established itself as a bona fide hub for autonomous engineering development. Pittsburgh is also home to many smaller AV startups, including Locomation, which is working on autonomous trucks.
Waymo’s Pittsburgh location will join its network of offices in Mountain View, San Francisco, Phoenix, New York, Dallas, and Hyderabad, India.
Rivian, the Amazon-backed electric automaker that aims to be the first to bring an EV pickup truck to market, plans to open a second U.S. manufacturing factory, sources told TechCrunch, confirming an earlier report from Reuters.
Rivian wouldn’t elaborate on when it planned to build the factory, but did confirm it was in the process of identifying a site for a second plant. Reuters reported that the factory, dubbed Project Tera, would also include battery cell production, a detail that would drive up the cost and size of the factory.
“While it’s early in an evolving process, Rivian is exploring locations for a second U.S. manufacturing facility,” spokesperson Amy Mast said in an emailed statement. “We look forward to working with a supportive, technology-forward community in order to create a partnership as strong as the one we have with Normal, Illinois.”
The news comes a week after Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe sent a letter to customers that the company was pushing back deliveries of its long-awaited R1T electric pickup truck and R1S SUV several more months due to delays in production caused by “cascading impacts of the pandemic,” particularly the ongoing global shortage of semiconductor chips. The R1T deliveries will begin in September with the R1S to follow “shortly,” Scaringe wrote in the message.
Rivian plans to assemble its consumer products — the R1T, R1S — as well as the commercial delivery vans slated for Amazon at its factory in Normal, Illinois. That factory, which once produced the Mitsubishi Eclipse through a joint venture between Mitsubishi and Chrysler Corporation, has been completely updated and expanded.
The Normal factory has two separate production lines producing vehicles. One is dedicated for the R1 vehicles and other line is for its commercial vans. Amazon ordered 100,000 of these vans, with deliveries starting in 2021.
The automaker has raised more than $8 billion from a diverse set of backers that includes Ford, Cox Automotive, T. Rowe Price Associates Inc., Fidelity Management and Research Company, Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, Coatue and D1 Capital Partners. That capital will be needed to keep its 7,000-person workforce running and while building an assembly factory, a project that will cost at least $1 billion if it follows industry estimates.
Tesla will secure nickel from the commodity production giant BHP, the automaker’s latest move to secure direct sources of raw materials that are projected to surge in demand before the decade is out.
BHP’s Nickel West division will supply an undisclosed amount of the mineral from its mines in Western Australia. The two companies also agreed to work together to increase battery supply chain sustainability and to identify ways to decrease carbon emissions from their respective operations using energy storage paired with renewable energy.
Nickel is a key mineral in lithium-ion batteries, and a cornerstone of Tesla’s next-gen battery chemistry. While many lithium-ion batteries have cathodes made from nickel, manganese and cobalt, Tesla is taking a different tack. At Tesla’s Battery Day 2020, Musk said the automaker would invest in a nickel-rich, cobalt-free cathode for some models, citing greater energy density.
Tesla also hasn’t been shy about its own intention to increase battery cell production in the coming decade, aiming to produce 100 gigawatt hours of batteries by 2022, to a staggering 3 terawatt hours per year by 2030.
To that end, the company is moving fast to secure purchase agreements with leading nickel producers. Earlier this year, the automaker announced a partnership with a nickel producer in the French Pacific territory New Caledonia. Just a few months later, Tesla chairperson Robyn Denhlm confirmed that the company was looking to purchase around $1 billion per year in battery minerals from Australia alone.
Musk has repeatedly urged miners to produce more nickel. On an investment call last July, he told producers, “Tesla will give you a giant contract for a long period of time if you mine nickel efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way.” At Battery Day, he reiterated his position: “In order to scale, we really need to make sure that we’re not constrained by total nickel availability,” he said. “I actually spoke with the CEOs of the biggest mining company in the world and said, ‘Please make more nickel, it’s very important.’”
But finding an environmentally friendly nickel source is a challenge. Some of that has to do with issues endemic to present-day recovery and smelting techniques; others are more directly manageable by mining companies. For example, nickel mining operations in Indonesia, the world’s largest producer of the metal, have come under fire for their reliance on coal and their waste disposal techniques.
BHP claims its operation is one of the most sustainable in the world, and Tesla’s decision to partner with it could be seen as something of a confirmation of that fact. The commodity producer in February said up to 50% of the electricity to power one of its nickel refineries would come from solar energy resources.
The vast majority of the world’s nickel supply is currently consumed by the steel industry. While nickel demand in the EV and energy storage sectors is currently relatively small, the International Energy Agency estimates that will increase more than 4,000% over the next 20 years – from 81 metric tons in 2020 to 3,352 metric tons by 2040.
Nickel West has historically been a tiny fraction of BHP’s overall business, dwarfed by its iron ore, copper and petroleum businesses. The commodity producer tried to sell Nickel West a number of times since around 2015, but it appears to have changed its tune with the forecasted groundswell of demand from the EV and energy storage sectors.
Industry analysts Benchmark Minerals estimated the deal with Tesla could be worth up to 18,000 tons of nickel annually.
Sendlane, a San Diego-based multichannel marketing automation platform, announced Thursday it raised $20 million in Series A funding.
Five Elms Capital and others invested in the round to give Sendlane total funding of $23 million since the company was founded in 2018.
Though the company officially started three years ago, co-founder and CEO Jimmy Kim told TechCrunch he began working on the idea back in 2013 with two other co-founders.
They were all email marketers in different lines of business, but had some common ground in that they were all using email tools they didn’t like. The ones they did like came with too big of a price tag for a small business, Kim said. They set out to build their own email marketing automation platform for customers that wanted to do more than email campaigns and newsletters.
When two other companies Kim was involved in exited in 2017, he decided to put both feet into Sendlane to build it into a system that maximized revenue based on insights and integrations.
In late 2018, the company attracted seed funding from Zing Capital and decided in 2019 to pivot into e-commerce. “Based on our personal backgrounds and looking at the customers we worked with, we realized that is what we did best,” Kim said.
Today, more than 1,700 e-commerce companies use Sendlane’s platform to convert more than 100 points of their customers’ data — abandoned carts, which products sell the best and which marketing channel is working — into engaging communications aimed at driving customer loyalty. The company said it can increase revenue for customers between 20% and 40% on average.
The company itself is growing 100% year over year and seeing over $7 million in annual recurring revenue. It currently has 54 employees right now, and Kim expects to be at around 90 by the end of the year and 150 by the end of 2022. Sendlane currently has more than 20 open roles, he said.
That current and potential growth was a driver for Kim to go after the Series A funding. He said Sendlane became profitable last year, which is why it has not raised a lot of money so far. However, as the rapid adoption of e-commerce continues, Kim wants to be ready for the next wave of competition coming in, which he expects in the next year.
He considers companies like ActiveCampaign and Klaviyo to be in line with Sendlane, but says his company’s differentiator is customer service, boasting short wait times and chats that answer questions in less than 15 seconds.
He is also ready to go after the next vision, which is to unify data and insights to create meaningful interactions between customers and retailers.
“We want to start carving out a new space,” Kim added. “We have a ton of new products coming out in the next 12 to 18 months and want to be the single source for customer journey data insights that provides flexibility for your business to grow.”
Two upcoming tools include Audiences, which will unify customer data and provide insights, and an SMS product for two-way communications and enabled campaign-level sending.
The myriad emerging and longer-term transportation technologies promise to change how people and packages move about the world or within their own neighborhoods. They also present myriad regulatory and policy hurdles that lawmakers, advocates and even investors and industry executives are attempting to navigate.
At the center — at least in the United States — sits Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. The small-town mayor in Indiana turned presidential candidate and now cabinet member under the Biden administration oversees public transport, highway safety and nascent technologies like autonomous vehicles. The Harvard graduate, Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and former U.S. Navy officer is in a position to bring complexity or clarity to the future of transportation.
At Disrupt 2021, Secretary Buttigieg will join us for a fireside chat where we’ll dig into some of the thorniest questions around transportation and how to ensure that moving from Point A to Point B is a universal right, not a privilege. We’ll ask Buttigieg about micromobility and public transit, President Biden’s push for the federal government to use electric vehicles, autonomous vehicle guidance and new regulatory requirements around reporting vehicle crashes when an advanced driver assistance and automated driving system is engaged — a move that could spur a new wave of startups and benefit some in-car technologies.
The upshot: If it involves technology that moves people and packages, we aim to talk about it.
Secretary Buttigieg is just one of the many high-profile speakers who will be on our Disrupt Stage and the Extra Crunch Stage. During the three-day event, writer, director, actor and Houseplant co-founder Seth Rogen will be joined by Houseplant Chief Commercial Officer Haneen Davies and co-founder and CEO Michael Mohr to talk about the business of weed, Duolingo CEO and co-founder Luis von Ahn will discuss gamifying education and prepping for a public offering and Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong will dig into the volatile world of cryptocurrency and his company’s massive direct listing earlier this year.
Other speakers include Twitter CISO Rinki Sethi, Calendly founder and CEO Tope Awotona, Mirror co-founder and CEO Brynn Putnam, Evil Geniuses CEO Nicole LaPointe Jameson and Andreessen Horowitz General Partner Katie Haun.
Disrupt 2021 wouldn’t be complete without Startup Battlefield, the competition that launched some of the world’s biggest tech companies, including Cloudflare and Dropbox. Join Secretary Buttigieg and over 10,000 of the startup world’s most influential people at Disrupt 2021 online this September 21-23. Get your pass to attend now for under $99 for a limited time!