Robotaxis may still be a few years out, but there are other industries that can be transformed by autonomous vehicles as they are today. MIT spin-off ISEE has identified one in the common shipping yard, where containers are sorted and stored — today by a dwindling supply of human drivers, but tomorrow perhaps by the company’s purpose-built robotic yard truck. With new funding and partnerships with major shippers, the company may be about to go big.
Shipping yards are the buffer zone of the logistics industry. When a container is unloaded from a ship full of them, it can’t exactly just sit there on the wharf where the crane dropped it. Maybe it’s time sensitive and has to trucked out right away; maybe it needs to go through customs and inspections and must stay in the facility for a week; maybe it’s refrigerated and needs power and air hookups.
Each of these situations will be handled by a professional driver, hooking the container up to a short-haul truck and driving it the hundred or thousand meters to its proper place, an empty slot with a power hookup, long term storage, ready access for inspection, etc. But like many jobs in logistics, this one is increasingly facing a labor shortage as fewer people sign up for it every year. The work, after all, is fairly repetitive, not particularly easy, and of course heavy equipment can be dangerous.
ISEE’s co-founders Yibiao Zhao and Debbie Yu said they identified the logistics industry as one that needs more automation, and these container yards especially. “Working with customers, it’s surprising how dated their yard operation is — it’s basically just people yelling,” said Zhao. “There’s a big opportunity to bring this to the next level.”
The ISEE trucks are not fully custom vehicles but yard trucks of a familiar type, retrofitted with lidar, cameras, and other sensors to give them 360-degree awareness. Their job is to transport containers (unmodified, it is important to note) to and from locations in the yards, backing the 50-foot trailer into a parking spot with as little as a foot of space on either side.
“A customer adopts our solution just as if they’re hiring another driver,” Zhao said. No safe zone is required, no extra considerations need to be made at the yard. The ISEE trucks navigate the yard intelligently, driving around obstacles, slowing for passing workers, and making room for other trucks, whether autonomous or human. Unlike many industrial machines and vehicles, these bring the current state of autonomous driving to bear in order to stay safe and drive as safely as possible among mixed and unpredictable traffic.
The advantage of an automated system over a human driver is especially pronounced in this environment. One rather unusual limitation of yard truck drivers is that, because the driver’s seat is on the left side of the cabin, they can only park the trucks on the left as well since that’s the only side they can see well enough. ISEE trucks have no such limitation, of course, and can park easily in either direction, something that has apparently blown the human drivers’ minds.
Efficiency is also improved through the infallible machine mind. “There are hundreds, even thousands of containers in the yard. Humans spend a lot of time just going around the yard searching for assets, because they can’t remember what is where,” explained Zhao. But of course a computer never forgets, and so no gas is wasted circling the yard looking for either a container or a spot to put one.
Once it parks, another ISEE tech can make the necessary connections for electricity or air as well, a step that can be hazardous for human drivers in bad conditions.
The robotic platform also offers consistency. Human drivers aren’t so good when they’re trainees, taking a few years to get seasoned, noted Yu. “We’ve learned a lot about efficiency,” she said. “That’s basically what customers care about the most; the supply chain depends on throughput.”
To that end she said that moderating speed has been an interesting challenge — it’s easy for the vehicle to go faster, but it needs the awareness to be able to slow down when necessary, not just when there’s an obstacle, but when there are things like blind corners that must be navigated with care.
It is in fact a perfect training ground for developing autonomy, and that’s kind of the idea.
“Today’s robots work with very predefined rules in very constrained environments, but in the future autonomous cars will drive in open environments. We see this tech gap, how to enable robots or autonomous vehicles do deal with uncertainty,” said Zhao.
“We needed a relatively unconstrained environment with complex human behaviors, and we found it’s actually a perfect marriage, the flexible autonomy we’re offering and the yard,” he continued. “It’s a private lot, there’s no regulation, all the vehicles stay in it, there are no kids or random people, no long tail like a public highway or busy street. But it’s not simple, it’s complex like most industrial environments — it’s congested, busy, there are pedestrians and trucks coming in and out.”
Although it’s an MIT spinout with a strong basis in papers and computer vision research, it’s not a theoretical business. ISEE is already working with two major shippers, Lazer Spot and Maersk, which account for hundreds of yards and some 10,000 trucks, many or most of which could potentially be automated by ISEE.
So far the company has progressed past the pilot stage and is working with Maersk to bring several vehicles into active service at a yard. The Maersk Growth Fund has also invested an undisclosed amount in ISEE, and one detects the possibility of an acquisition looming in the near future. But the plan for now is to simply expand and refine the technology and services and widen the lead between ISEE and any would-be competitors.
One of the lingering mysteries from Uber’s sale of its Uber ATG self-driving unit to Aurora has been solved.
Raquel Urtasun, the AI pioneer who was the chief scientist at Uber ATG, has launched a new startup called Waabi that is taking what she describes as an “AI-first approach” to speed up the commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles, starting with long-haul trucks. Urtasun, who is the sole founder and CEO, already has a long list of high-profile backers, including separate investments from Uber and Aurora. Waabi has raised $83.5 million in a Series A round led by Khosla Ventures with additional participation from Uber, 8VC, Radical Ventures, OMERS Ventures, BDC, Aurora Innovation as well as leading AI researchers Geoffrey Hinton, Fei-Fei Li, Pieter Abbeel, Sanja Fidler and others.
Urtasun described Waabi, which currently employs 40 people and operates in Toronto and California, as the culmination of her life’s work to bring commercially viable self-driving technology to society. The name of the company — Waabi means “she has vision” in Ojibwe and “simple” in Japanese — hints at her approach and ambitions.
Autonomous vehicle startups that exist today use a combination of artificial intelligence algorithms and sensors to handle the tasks of driving that humans do such as detecting and understanding objects and making decisions based on that information to safely navigate a lonely road or a crowded highway. Beyond those basics are a variety of approaches, including within AI.
Most self-driving vehicle developers use a traditional form of AI. However, the traditional approach limits the power of AI, Urtasun said, adding that developers must manually tune the software stack, a complex and time-consuming task. The upshot, Urtasun says: Autonomous vehicle development has slowed and the limited commercial deployments that do exist operate in small and simple operational domains because scaling is so costly and technically challenging.
“Working in this field for so many years and, in particular, the industry for the past four years, it became more and more clear along the way that there is a need for a new approach that is different from the traditional approach that most companies are taking today,” said Urtasun, who is also a professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto and a co-founder of the Vector Institute for AI.
Some developers do use deep neural nets, a sophisticated form of artificial intelligence algorithms that allows a computer to learn by using a series of connected networks to identify patterns in data. However, developers typically wall off the deep nets to handle a specific problem and use a machine learning and rules-based algorithms to tie into the broader system.
Deep nets have their own set of problems. A long-standing argument is that can’t be used with any reliability in autonomous vehicles in part because of the “black box” effect, in which the how and the why the AI solved a particular task is not clear. That is a problem for any self-driving startup that wants to be able verify and validate its system. It is also difficult to incorporate any prior knowledge about the task that the developer is trying to solve, like say driving. Finally, deep nets require an immense amount of data to learn.
Urtasun says she solved these lingering problems around deep nets by combining them with probabilistic inference and complex optimization, which she describes as a family of algorithms. When combined, the developer can trace back the decision process of the AI system and incorporate prior knowledge so they don’t have to teach the AI system everything from scratch. The final piece is a closed loop simulator that will allow the Waabi team to test at scale common driving scenarios and safety-critical edge cases.
Waabi will still have a physical fleet of vehicles to test on public roads. However, the simulator will allow the company to rely less on this form of testing. “We can even prepare for new geographies before we even drive there,” Urtasun said. “That’s a huge benefit in terms of the scaling curve.”
Urtasun’s vision and intent isn’t to take this approach and disrupt the ecosystem of OEMs, hardware and compute suppliers, but to be a player within it. That might explain the backing of Aurora, a startup that is developing its own self-driving stack that it hopes to first deploy in logistics such as long-haul trucking.
“This was the moment to really do something different,” Urtasun said. “The field is in need of a diverse set of approaches to solve this and it became very clear that this was the way to go.”
Cruise, the autonomous vehicle subsidiary of GM that also has backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, Microsoft and Honda, has secured a permit that will allow the company to shuttle passengers in its test vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel.
The permit, issued by the California Public Utilities Commission as part of its driverless pilot program, is one of several regulatory requirements autonomous vehicle companies must meet before they can deploy commercially. This permit is important — and Cruise is the first to land this particular one — but it does not allow the company to charge passengers for any rides in test AVs.
“In order to launch a commercial service for passengers here in the state of California, you need both the California DMV and the California PUC to issue deployment permits. Today we are honored to have been the first to receive a driverless autonomous service permit to test transporting passengers from the California PUC,” Prashanthi Raman, Cruise’s director of Government Affairs said in an emailed statement to TechCrunch.
There are two regulatory bodies, the CPUC and the California Department of Motor Vehicles, that dictate the testing and eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles. The California DMV regulates testing of autonomous vehicles with and without safety operators. About 55 companies have permits to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver. Driverless testing permits, in which a human operator is not behind the wheel, have become the new milestone and a required step for companies that want to launch a commercial robotaxi or delivery service in the state. AutoX, Baidu, Cruise, Nuro, Pony.ai, Waymo, WeRide and Zoox have driverless permits with the DMV.
The final step with the DMV, which only Nuro has achieved, is a deployment permit. This permit allows Nuro to deploy at a commercial scale. Nuro’s vehicles can’t hold passengers, just cargo, which allows the company to bypass the CPUC permitting process.
Over at the CPUC, there are “drivered” and “driverless” permits, which allow companies to give rides in their autonomous vehicles. Aurora, AutoX, Cruise, Deeproute.ai, Pony, Voyage (which was acquired by Cruise) Waymo and Zoox all have “drivered” permits. Cruise is the first to snag the driverless permit.
Any company that wants to eventually shuttle and charge passengers for rides in their robotaxis have to secure all of these permits from the DMV and CPUC.
“Issuance of this first driverless permit for the CPUC’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot Programs is a significant milestone. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to transform our transportation system and communities by solving individual mobility needs, improving roadway safety, and moving goods throughout the state sustainably and efficiently,” Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma said in statement. “The effective deployment of autonomous vehicles can also transform vehicle manufacturing, maintenance, and service business models to create new jobs and industries for the California workforce.”
Last year, the CPUC approved two new programs to allow permitted companies to provide and charge for shared rides in autonomous vehicles as long as they can navigate the lengthy regulatory process. The decision came after months of lobbying by the AV industry pushing the CPUC to consider a rule change that would allow for operators to charge a fare and offer shared rides in driverless vehicles.
The CPUC said Cruise, along with any other company that eventually participates in the pilot, must submit quarterly reports about the operation of their vehicles providing driverless AV passenger service. Companies must also submit a passenger safety plan that outlines their plans for protecting passenger safety for driverless operations.
Autonomous vehicle startup Aurora is close to finalizing a deal to merge with Reinvent Technology Partners Y, the newest special purpose acquisition company launched by LinkedIn co-founder and investor Reid Hoffman, Zynga founder Mark Pincus and managing partner Michael Thompson, according to several sources familiar with the talks.
One of the sticking points is the targeted valuation, which had been as high as $20 billion. It is now closer to $12 billion and the deal is expected to be announced as early as next week, said multiple sources who have asked not to be identified because they’re not authorized to discuss the deal. Aurora declined to comment. Reinvent also declined to comment.
The Hoffman, Pincus, Thompson trio, who are bullish on a concept that they call “venture capital at scale,” have formed three SPACs, or blank check companies. Two of those SPACs have announced mergers with private companies. Reinvent Technology Partners announced a deal in February to merge with the electric vertical take off and landing company Joby Aviation, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange later this year. Reinvent Technology Partners Z merged with home insurance startup Hippo.
Their latest SPAC, known as Reinvent Technology Partners Y, priced its initial public offering of 85 million units at $10 per unit to raise $850 million. The SPAC issued an additional 12.7 million shares to cover over allotments with total gross proceeds of $977 million, according to regulatory filings. The units are listed on Nasdaq exchange and trade under the ticker symbol “RTPYU.”
Aurora already has a relationship with Hoffman. In February 2018, Aurora raised $90 million from Greylock Partners and Index Ventures. Hoffman, who is a partner at Greylock and Index Ventures’ Mike Volpi became board members of Aurora as part of the Series A round. The following year, Aurora raised more than $530 million in a Series B round led by Sequoia Capital and included from Amazon, T. Rowe Price Associates. Lightspeed Venture Partners, Geodesic, Shell Ventures and Reinvent Capital also participated in the round, as well as previous investors Greylock and Index Ventures.
While Hoffman and Reinvent showing up on two sides of a SPAC deal would be unusual, it is not unprecedented. For instance, a blank check company formed by T.J. Rodgers announced in February a merger with Enovix, a battery technology company that he has been a director of since 2012 and is its largest shareholder, Bloomberg reported at the time. In this case, Hoffman is a board member, but not its largest shareholder.
Aurora, which was founded in 2017 by Sterling Anderson, Drew Bagnell and Chris Urmson, has had a high-flying year. In December, the company reached an agreement with Uber to buy the ride-hailing firm’s self-driving unit in a complex deal that value the combined company at $10 billion.
Aurora did not pay cash for Uber ATG, a company that was valued at $7.25 billion following a $1 billion investment in 2019 from Toyota, DENSO and SoftBank’s Vision Fund. Instead, Uber handed over its equity in ATG and invested $400 million into Aurora. The deal gave Uber a 26% stake in the combined company, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (As a refresher, Uber held an 86.2% stake (on a fully diluted basis) in Uber ATG, according to filings with the SEC. Uber ATG’s investors held a combined stake of 13.8% in the company.)
Since the acquisition, Aurora has spent the past several months integrating Uber ATG employees and now has a workforce of about 1,600 people. Aurora more recently said it reached an agreement with Volvo to jointly develop autonomous semi-trucks for North America. That partnership, which is expected to last several years and is through Volvo’s Autonomous Solutions unit, will focus on developing and deploying trucks built to operate autonomously on highways between hubs for Volvo customers.
In March, Aurora disclosed in a regulatory filing, that it has sold $54.9 million in an equity offering that kicked off in March 2021.
Aurora, the autonomous vehicle company that acquired Uber ATG last year, has assembled a team of outside experts, shared new details about its operations in a self-assessment safety report and launched a website as part of a broader effort to win over consumers wary of the technology that they may someday share the road with, or even use.
Aurora said Thursday it has tapped experts in aviation safety, insurance, medicine and automotive safety — all people from outside of the niche AV industry — to provide an outside perspective on the company’s overall approach to safety, to look for gaps in its system and advise on the best ways to share its progress and record with regulators and the public. The advisory group is designed to augment Aurora’s existing safety efforts, which includes on-road testing and development.
“I think for a while we’ve almost done the ‘Field of Dreams’ analysis where it’s like, ‘well if we build it they will come, just look at iPhones,'” Nat Beuse, Aurora’s head of safety said in a recent interview with TechCrunch. “We are always comparing it to these other consumer products, and I’m not so sure that is actually how we win over the hearts and minds of consumers in every single community in the United States.”
Beuse, who previously led the safety team at Uber ATG and once oversaw automated-vehicle developments at the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the goal is for driverless vehicles — whether that’s robotaxis shuttling people or trucks hauling freight — to be adopted broadly. That can’t happen, he said, without being able to measure and show the public that the technology is safe. He noted that public trust is one of the two biggest threats he sees to the AV industry.
“If all we worry about is a small number of people who get exposed to [AVs] we will never see the benefits of this technology and the broad scale, sweeping changes and the impact that it can have on our lives in a beneficial way,” he said. “We have to do a lot more there [gaining public trust]. Beuse added that gaining public trust should be done in concert with the government.
“I think for too long it’s been, ‘You, industry, you solve it. You’re building this stuff,'” he said. “And I really think it’s a partnership. Of course, we’re building the tech, we have a huge responsibility, but also the government has a huge, huge role to play and helping us kind of get the public on board.”
The members of the safety advisory board include Intelligent Transportation Society of America President and CEO Shailen Bhatt, Dave Carbaugh, the former chief pilot for flight-operations safety at Boeing and Victoria Chibuogu Nneji, the lead engineer and innovation strategist at Edge Case Research. Other members include Biologue President Jeff Runge, who is also a former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Adrian Lund, managing member of HITCH42, LLC and former president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and GHS Aviation Group CEO George Snyder.
The committee, which has already been meeting, is comprised of people who “don’t live and breathe the tech,” Beuse said.
Most importantly, for Aurora and the rest of the industry, is addressing the looming question of ‘how safe is safe enough?’ when it comes to driverless vehicles. One metric that has been adopted, and increasingly criticized, is comparing vehicle miles traveled and vehicle miles per “disengagement,” an industry jargon term that means a human safety operator has taken over from the computer driving the vehicle.
“We’ve been pretty adamant that that’s not a real metric because you can drive around in a parking lot and generate some interactions and that’s a whole lot different than if you’re driving in a city — and oh by the way, that’s a whole lot different if you’re driving on the highway,” Beuse explained.
Aurora is part of the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium (AVSC), which includes Daimler, Ford, GM, Honda, Lyft, Motional, SAE and Toyota, that is working to come up with better safety metrics. The new Aurora safety advisory board isn’t working directly on the AVSC project, however it is providing general guidance that could help in this effort.
While there is still more work to be done to validate these new metrics, the group does have a handful that it thinks are pretty promising, Beuse said.
Waymo One, the ride-hailing service that uses driverless vehicles in the suburbs of Phoenix, can now be accessed and booked through Google Maps.
This will be the first fully autonomous ride-hailing option available in the app, which will roll out first to Android users, Waymo said Thursday. The team-up not only brings together two Alphabet companies, it signals Waymo’s push to become more visible and accessible to the public.
Waymo has abut 600 vehicles in its U.S. fleet. About 300 to 400 of those are in the Phoenix area, but not all of those are used in the driverless Waymo One fleet. The Waymo One service only uses driverless vehicles, which means that a safety operator is not physically behind the wheel. It also means that if it pops up on Google Maps, users can be assured that it will indeed be driverless. Some vehicles in the Phoenix area are used for testing. Waymo doesn’t share exact numbers of how many driverless vehicles it operates as part of the service.
— Waymo (@Waymo) June 3, 2021
The process still requires a bit of app hopping. There isn’t a direct way to access, book and pay for the Waymo One rides in Google Maps. Instead, the user is brought over to the Waymo app to complete the booking. Users first have to input directions to or from a location in Waymo’s Metro Phoenix territory, which includes parts of Chandler, Mesa and Tempe, from an Android device. Once the user taps on the ridesharing or transit tab, they will see the estimated price and ETA of their trip with Waymo.
Existing Waymo One riders will be directed to the Waymo app to book the ride, while newcomers will be taken to the PlayStore to download it.
Tesla has enabled the in-car camera in its Model 3 and Model Y vehicles to monitor drivers when its Autopilot advanced driver assistance system is being used.
In a software update, Tesla indicated the “cabin camera above the rearview mirror can now detect and alert driver inattentiveness while Autopilot is engaged.” Notably, Tesla has a closed loop system for the data, meaning imagery captured by the camera does not leave the car. The system cannot save of transit information unless data sharing is enabled, according to Tesla. The firmware update was cited by a number of Tesla owners active on Twitter.
Tesla has faced criticism for not activating a driver monitoring system within the vehicle even as evidence mounted that owners were misusing the system. Owners have posted dozens of videos on YouTube and TikTok abusing the Autopilot system — some of whom have filmed themselves sitting in the backseat as vehicle drives along the highway. Several fatal crashes involving Tesla vehicles that had Autopilot engaged has put more pressure on the company to act.
Until now, Tesla has not used the camera installed in its vehicles and instead relied on sensors in the steering wheel that measured torque — a method that is supposed to require the driver to keep their hands on the wheel. Drivers have documented and shared on social media how to trick the sensors into thinking a human is holding the wheel.
Tesla didn’t share details about the driver monitoring system — for instance, is it tracking eye gaze or head position — or whether it will be used to allow hands-free driving. GM’s Super Cruise and Ford’s Blue Cruise advanced driver assistance systems allow for hands-free driving on certain divided highways. Their systems use a combination of map data, high-precision GPS, cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system that monitors the person behind the wheel, to ensure drivers are paying attention.
Tesla vehicles come standard with a driver assistance system branded as Autopilot. For an additional $10,000, owners can buy “full self-driving,” or FSD — a feature that CEO Elon Musk promises will one day deliver full autonomous driving capabilities. FSD, which has steadily increased in price and capability, has been available as an option for years.
However, Tesla vehicles are not self-driving. FSD includes the parking feature Summon as well as Navigate on Autopilot, an active guidance system that navigates a car from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, including interchanges and making lane changes. Once drivers enter a destination into the navigation system, they can enable “Navigate on Autopilot” for that trip.
The move comes just a week after Tesla tweeted that its Model Y and Model 3 vehicles bound for North American customers are being built without radar, fulfilling a desire by Musk to only use cameras combined with machine learning to support Autopilot and other active safety features.
Automakers typically use a combination of radar and cameras — and even lidar — to provide the sensing required to deliver advanced driver assistance system features like adaptive cruise control, which matches the speed of a car to surrounding traffic, as well as lane keeping and automatic lane changes. Musk has touted the potential of its branded “Tesla Vision” system, which only uses cameras and so-called neural net processing to detect and understand what is happening in the environment surrounding the vehicle and then respond appropriately.
The decision to pull radar out of the vehicles has caused some blowback for the company. Consumer Reports no longer lists the Model 3 as a Top Pick and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said it plans to remove the Model 3’s Top Safety Pick+ designation. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration has said that Model 3 and Model Y vehicles built on or after April 27, 2021 will no longer receive the agency’s check mark for automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and dynamic brake support.
Rivian said that deliveries of the R1T Launch Edition, the limited edition release of its first series of “electric adventure vehicles,” will be delayed by a month, according to an update on its website.
Customers who preordered can now expect to start receiving their pickup trucks in July instead of June, with Launch Edition deliveries to be completed by Spring 2022. The change was first spotted by the Rivian Forum.
The Amazon-backed EV startup told preorder holders in July 2020 to expect deliveries of the truck in June 2021, with R1S electric SUV deliveries starting two months later in August. The delivery timeline has already been extended once, after Rivian suspended construction work on its factory due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It also appears that the R1S SUV has been delayed by several months, according to the website, which states that all R1T and R1S Launch Edition preorder holders will hear from their designation Rivian customer rep “by the end of November with their expected delivery timing.”
Rivian did not immediately respond with a request for comment. TechCrunch update the article, if they do.
Despite the delay, it looks like Rivian will still be first to bring an electric truck to market among both new EV entrants and legacy automakers. Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns said in an investor call last week that deliveries for the company’s “Endurance” truck are still on track for September (despite slashing production numbers in half). Ford’s F-150 Lighting, the electric version of its nameplate pickup, is expected in 2022. And Tesla recently confirmed that its Cybertruck will start production late this year.
Rivian also said it will be starting its drive program in August, which will let customers schedule at-home drives or attend a tour event. The company will be releasing details on launch dates and reservations for the tour events in the coming weeks. Rivian selected Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Detroit and Seattle as the first batch of cities on the tour.
In addition, it released a few product updates. Customers now have the option to add an Off-Road Upgrade to their vehicle configuration for an additional $2,000. Every Rivian will now also come with an onboard air compressor, previously available only with the Off-Road Upgrade.
Customers can also add Rivian Adventure Gear to their configuration. These include a rooftop tent, cargo bars, and camp kitchen (that now comes with a 30-piece kitchen set).
Ford is increasing its investment in its electric vehicle future to $30 billion by 2025, up from a previous spend of $22 billion by 2023. The company announced the fresh cashflow into its EV and battery development strategy, dubbed Ford+, during an investor day on Tuesday.
The company said it expects 40% of its global vehicle volume to be fully electric by 2030. Ford sold 6,614 Mustang Mach-Es in the U.S. in Q1, and since it unveiled its F-150 Lightning last week, the company says it has already amassed 70,000 customer reservations.
The Ford+ plan reveals the new path automakers will have to take if they want to keep up with an EV future. Historically, China, Japan and Korea have owned much of the world’s battery manufacturing, but as major OEMs begin building electric cars, the demand is far outstripping supply, forcing car manufacturers to invest their own resources into development. General Motors is building a battery factory with LG in Ohio, and BMW joined Ford to invest in solid state battery startup Solid Power.
This investment “underscores our belief that production-feasible solid state batteries are within reach in this decade,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s chief product platform and operations officer, during the investor day. “Solid Power’s sulphide-based solid electrolyte and silicon-based anode chemistry delivers impressive battery improvements in performance, including increased range, lower cost, more vehicle interior space and better value and greater safety for our customers.”
The solid state battery manufacturing process doesn’t differ too much from the existing lithium ion battery process, so Ford will be able to reuse about 70% of its manufacturing lines and capital investment, according to Thai-Tang.
At Ford’s Ion Park facility, a battery R&D center Ford is building in Michigan, the automaker has brought together a team of 150 experts to research and create a game plan for the next generation of lithium ion chemistries and Ford’s new energy-dense battery technology, the Ion Boost +.
“Our ultimate goal is to deliver a holistic ecosystem including services that should allow us to achieve higher profitability over time with BEVs than we do today with ICE vehicles,” said Thai-Tang.
The Ion Boost +’s unique cell pouch format is not only ideal for powering Ford’s larger vehicles, but it could also help the company reduce battery costs 40% by mid-decade, the company says.
“The cell chemistry, coupled with Ford’s proprietary battery control algorithm featuring high accuracy sensing technology, delivers higher efficiency and range for customers,” said Thai-Tang.
For commercial vehicles, Ford is working on a battery cell made with lithium ion phosphate chemistry, which it’s calling the Ion Boost Pro, which it says is cheaper and better for duty cycles that require less range.
Eight months after Lucid Motors showed off the final version of its all-electric Air sedan, the company has finally revealed the in-cabin tech — from the curved 34-inch display and second touchscreen to the underlying software, integrated apps and Amazon Alexa voice assistant —that drivers and passengers will use once the automaker begins deliveries of the vehicle in the second half of the year.
The aim of the company’s branded Lucid User Experience, or Lucid UX, is to include all the tech that customers might want in a vehicle priced between $80,000 and $169,000 without adding clutter and confusion.
“We really tried to follow a strong principle of ease-of-use and a short learning curve, for it to have quick responses and an overall feeling of elegance,” Derek Jenkins, Lucid’s head of design said in a recent interview. “I kind of wanted to move away from it being overly technical or sci-fi looking or spreadsheet-like and really move towards something that was more fitting with the brand and our design ethos.”
The interior isn’t as stark as a Tesla Model 3 or Tesla Model Y, nor as jam-packed as an Audi A8. Jenkins and his team have tried to hit the Goldilocks’s equivalent the perfect bowl of tech porridge.
“At the beginning of the project I always used to tell the team, ‘Listen I want my mom to be able to get in this car and figure it out the first time,'” Jenkins said. “She should be able to know instinctively probably the light switch and the door locks are on the left side because that’s where they always are and not have to dig through that stuff. Or that the climate controls are probably on the lower screen because that’s where it often is and traditionally has been. I just felt like it should have intuitiveness and a degree of simplicity, while still having impressive features and having a system that can grow.”
The curved 34-inch 5k display called the glass cockpit floats slightly above the dashboard and is the most visible hardware in the vehicle, although not the only component worth mentioning. It is actually three separate displays housed under a single plate of glass, a technique that Mercedes-Benz has used in its 56-inch hyperscreen. On the far left, is a touchscreen where Lucid has placed the most important, or core, vehicle controls such as window defrosters, lighting and wiper settings.
The middle screen, is the instrument cluster, which is where the driver will see the speed and remaining battery range displayed. The right side of instrument cluster is a widget that can display a variety of information, depending on the user, including navigation or what music is playing. The instrument cluster is also where the driver will see whether the advanced driver assistance system is activated.
To the right of the steering wheel, is another touch display that Lucid is calling the home screen. It’s here where navigation, media and communications will be located.
Moving down and to the center console area is another curved screen that Lucid has dubbed the “pilot panel,” which displays climate controls, seat functions, including a massage feature, along with all the other vehicle settings. The driver or passenger can swipe menus from the home screen down to pilot panel to display in-depth controls for music or navigation. And if the driver doesn’t want that additional touchscreen, the pilot panel can be retracted, opening access to a storage space behind it.
It’s worth noting that analog switches are still within the vehicle in three areas: the doors, the steering wheel and a slice of space between the pilot panel and the upper home screen. Alongside the doors, the driver or passengers will find the window switches and interior door latches. Right above the center console display are four physical buttons that lets the driver or passenger control climate temperature and fan speed.
On the steering wheel is a touch bar and two toggles. These buttons can be used to launch the Alexa voice assistant and turn on and off the advanced driver assistance functions as well as adjust the following distance in cruise control and volume.
“We did a lot of research through this discussion of analog interaction such as physical buttons and digital interaction on a touchscreen,” Jenkins said. “What we found was there was some key functionality that people still wanted to have physical interaction with.”
The vehicle is also loaded with 32 sensors, including a single lidar that is located just below the nose blade on the exterior of the vehicle. Below that is a lower air intake and then a forward-facing radar. Other radar sensors are located on the exterior corners. There are exterior cameras as well in the nose and header area behind the rearview mirror.
Inside the vehicle, and tucked right below the instrument cluster is a camera that faces the driver. This camera is part of the driver-monitoring system, which is meant to ensure the operator is paying attention when the advanced driver assistance system is engaged.
Two other hardware items worth noting is the 21-speaker surround sound system from Dolby Atmos and a small vintage detail with the air vents. Lucid wanted the Air to have physical air vents that a person could touch and move unlike the Tesla Model 3, which requires the user to move the direction of the air flow through the digital touchscreen. But Lucid didn’t want the bulk of a vent in the chicklet style design, which has an additional side tab to turn on or off the air flow.
The solution is a slimmed down air vent with a single round dial right in the middle. That dial can be grabbed and move to shift air flow. It can also be turned to shut off the air to a particular vent.
“It was a breakthrough for us,” Jenkins said laughing, “which isn’t a breakthrough because that was super common in the 60s and 70s in cars.”
Behind all of the physical touchscreens and sensors is the software that delivers functions and services.
Lucid started with the open source Android Automotive operating system and built out the apps and other features from there. Android Automotive OS is modeled after Google’s Android open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. Google has offered an open-source version of this OS to automakers for sometime. In recent years, automakers have worked with Google to natively build in an Android OS that is embedded with all the Google apps and services such as Google Assistant, Google Maps and the Google Play Store. Lucid did not take the Google services platform route.
From here, Lucid worked with various third-party apps and integrated them into the infotainment system, a list that currently includes iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Pocket Casts, Dolby Atmos, Tidal and Spotify.
Lucid has also decided to make Alexa the default and primary integrated voice control system. Lucid Air will also come with Android Auto and Apple Carplay — apps that run on the user’s phone and wirelessly communicates with the vehicle’s infotainment system. This means the driver, or passenger, can access Google Assistant and Siri through these apps, they just won’t be able to control the vehicle functions like climate.
The vehicle will also have integrated mobile and Wi-Fi connectivity, which will allow Lucid to update the software of the vehicle wirelessly. The over-the-air update capability lets the company add new apps and services.
Jenkins said they’re already looking at bringing more content to the infotainment system, including gaming and video streaming, which would only be accessible when the vehicle is parked.
The Lucid design team is also examining other more hardware-based additions to future model years of the Air, including rear entertainment displays.
“You probably won’t see that from us until sometime in 2023,” Jenkins noted. “We think that’s an important thing to bring to the car especially because the rear seat is such a nice place to be.”
Another day, another mobility SPAC deal. This time, it’s Tritium, a Brisbane-based developer and producer of direct current fast EV chargers that is taking the SPAC path to the public market in a deal valuing the company at $1.2 billion.
Tritium said Wednesday it will be heading to the Nasdaq via a merger with special purpose acquisition company Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corp. II, or DCRN, though it declined to provide a timeline for when the transaction is expected to close. The transaction is expected to generate gross proceeds of up to $403 million. Tritium will be listed under the ticker “DCFC.”
This particular SPAC deal is unusual in that it does not include private investment in public equity, or PIPE — a fundraising round that typically occurs at the time of the merger and injects more capital into the company.
“We didn’t need a PIPE because DCRN is a more than $400 million SPAC and our shareholder group agreed to a minimum cash closing of just $200 million, which significantly reduces redemption risk,” Tritium CEO Jane Hunter told TechCrunch. “Also, our revenue has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 56% since 2016 as we expand our presence in major markets where we have a significant market share, such as the U.S. and Europe. This revenue growth helps to reduce our reliance upon new funds to implement our growth strategy.”
Founded in 2001, Tritium manufactures charger hardware and software for direct current fast chargers. Its products can recharge an EV battery, adding 20 miles in a minute or 100 miles in five minutes, DPAC II chairman Robert Tichio said during an investors call Wednesday. DC chargers are more costly than alternating current (AC) chargers but they send power to the vehicle much more quickly. Generally, AC chargers are installed at home, where a driver can plug in their vehicle overnight, while DC chargers are more frequently found at public charging stations.
“Drivers will want the experience of public charging to be as close as possible to their current experience at the gas pump – just a few minutes to get enough range to get on with your day,” Hunter said.
Tritium’s largest market is Europe, which composes around 70% of the company’s revenue, followed by North America at 20% and Asia at 10%, Hunter told investors Wednesday. The company will use the capital from the transaction to expand its manufacturing capacity and grow sales.
Demand for public EV charging stations is expected to mushroom over the next two decades alongside the growing market share of EVs. According to analysts Grandview Research, the EV charging infrastructure market was valued at $2 billion in 2020. It is expected to grow by nearly 39% through 2028. President Joe Biden said building out a national EV charging network was a key priority under his proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan.
Kodiak Robotics, the U.S.-based self-driving truck startup, is partnering with South Korean conglomerate SK to explore the possibility of deploying its autonomous vehicle technology in Asia.
The ultimate aim of the partnership is to sell and distribute Kodiak’s self-driving technology in the region. Kodiak will examine how it can use SK’s products, components and technology for its autonomous system, including artificial intelligence microprocessors and advanced emergency braking systems. Both companies have also agreed to work together to provide fleet management services for customers in Asia.
Kodiak co-founder and CEO Don Burnette couched the initial agreement as a first step towards a commercial enterprise in Asia.
“This is really just the first handful of steps to explore the possibility,” Burnette said. “What would it would look like to bring Kodiak’s AV technologies to Asian markets? What would be required? Who would be the partners? What are the regulatory forces that we have to contend with?”
Kodiak, which is based in Mountain View, Calif. and has operations in Texas, would be squaring off against at least two other self-driving companies — Plus and TuSimple — that already have a presence in the region. Both Plus and TuSimple announced mergers in the past six months with special purpose acquisition companies, an increasingly popular path for startup to go public.
While the partnership is at its earliest stage, it does connect Kodiak with a company that has a vast reach in South Korea as well as other countries in the region. The partnership is with SK Inc., a holding company of SK Group that has more than 120 operating companies, including ones connected to the logistics industry.
“Our partnership with Kodiak will help accelerate the commercialization of self-driving trucks in Asia,” said Jungho Shin, executive vice president of SK Inc. “Kodiak’s industry-leading technology and SK’s unrivaled reach in Korea and across Asia make this a natural partnership. We look forward to working with Kodiak to make autonomous trucking a reality around the globe.”
Burnette told TechCrunch the partnership agreement was reached after SK conducted an extensive technical review.
“They recognize the importance of AV technology broadly, they recognize the safety benefits, the economic benefits, and they want to play a role,” he said.
This is Kodiak’s first international expansion. But it might not be the last. Burnette said the company has been interested in certain international markets since it launched in 2018.
“We’ve had conversations about the Australian market,” Burnette noted. “I think Australia is another great market with future potential for this AV technology, particularly the long-haul highway, out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere kind of driving. There’s South American markets. Brazil is a big one that’s interesting to us, and, of course, Europe.
This partnership with SK Inc. follows an announcement with the U.S. Air Force for a contract to bring autonomous transportation to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Dover Air Force base in Delaware.
Lamborghini will pay homage to combustion engines with the introduction of two new V12 luxury sports cars this year before it makes a push into electrification as the company tries to balance its storied gas-powered past with a hybrid, and eventually electric, future.
The company laid out Tuesday its electrification roadmap, a plan that will see its full lineup of vehicles become hybrids by the end of 2024 and the launch of an all-electric Lamborghini in the second half of the decade.
Lamborghini said it plans to invest 1.5 billion euros ($1.82 million) over four years to make the transition to hybrid vehicles, the largest allocation in its history. The Volkswagen-owned brand it will launch its first hybrid series production car in 2023 and then hybridize the rest of the lineup the following year. During this second phase of its roadmap, Lamborghini will focus on developing new technologies and the application of lightweight carbon fiber materials — both of which will be crucial in compensating for weight due to electrification, the company said.
The aim, during this phase, is to reduce the product emissions 50% by 2025, the company said.
“Lamborghini’s electrification plan is a newly-plotted course, necessary in the context of a radically-changing world, where we want to make our contribution by continuing to reduce environmental impact through concrete projects,” Lamborghini President and CEO Stephan Winkelmann said in a statement. He emphasized that this plan, which begins with a celebration of the combustion engine, will take the company towards a “more sustainable future while always remaining faithful to our DNA.”
The Italian brand has already moved towards hybrids with the Sián and its roofless cousin the Sián Roadster. These vehicles, which were unveiled in 2019 and 2020 respectively, are mid-engine sports cars that combine a naturally aspirated 6.5-liter V12 engine, a supercapcitor instead of a lithium-ion battery that operates its powertrain and a 48-volt electric motor.
Together, this system produces 819 horsepower that propels the vehicle from zero to 62 mph in 2.8 seconds and a top speed of 218 mph. Lamborghini is producing 63 Sián and 19 Sián Roadsters. All of these have been sold, which suggests there is demand for a hybridized version of the classic Lamborghini.
Less than a month after announcing a partnership with India’s largest two-wheeled vehicle maker, Gogoro is taking another big step in its global expansion plans. This time the market is China, where Gogoro’s technology, including its swappable smart batteries, will be used in scooters made by Dachangjiang Group (DCJ), one of the country’s biggest motorcycle makers, and Yadea, one of it top electric two-wheel companies. DCJ and Yadea will jointly invest $50 million in an operating company to develop new two-wheel vehicles with their own branding that use the Gogoro Network, including its batteries, drivetrains, controllers and other components.
“Think of it as DCJ and Yadea combining to create an AT&T,” Gogoro co-founder and chief executive officer Horace Luke told TechCrunch. “Gogoro will be the technology that powers them, so think about it like we’re the Ericsson.”
Last month, Gogoro and Hero MotoCorp announced a strategic partnership to build a battery-swapping network and electric two-wheeled vehicles in India. Gogoro’s new deals in India and China are the biggest steps it has taken for its global strategy since launching the first Gogoro Smartscooter in 2015.
Gogoro’s swappable batteries, its signature technology, means riders can replace their batteries for new ones at charging stations that are small enough to fit on a sidewalk. In Taipei City, where Gogoro is based, its swapping stations are a common sight, usually tucked against storefronts or by the side of gas stations and parking lots. Since Gogoro’s batteries are swappable, electric vehicles that use them don’t need to be parked to be charged. This addresses “range anxiety,” or consumer concerns about how far an electric vehicle can go before it needs to be charged again. The main challenge is making sure there are enough swapping stations to be convenient for riders of two-wheeled vehicles powered by the Gogoro Network.
DCJ and Yadea’s joint venture will launch first in Hangzhou, its pilot city, before expanding into other cities in 2022. Vehicle availability and pricing will be announced later.
Last year, China’s government introduced new regulations that require all new cars sold by 2035 to use “new energy” instead of fossil fuel. Combined, DCJ and Yadea have 47,000 retailers, covering 358 cities, or more than half the cities in China. Luke said this means once the joint venture expands beyond Hangzhou, it will be able to grow quickly.
Gogoro positions itself as a turnkey solution for other electric mobility companies, and its own brand was a way to develop its charging infrastructure and reputation. In Taiwan, where Gogoro-powered two-wheeled vehicles now account for nearly a quarter of monthly sales, its swappable batteries were first used in Gogoro Smartscooters before the technology was licensed to other makers like Kymco, Yamaha and Aeon.
“It was almost like a roundabout way to prove that the platform is feasible,” said Luke. “We had to build our own vehicles, our own retail chain and now we support 400,000 customers and 2,000 stations. That proof case enabled us to work with these larger partners, so when they asked us to pull up data, we could show them the unit economics, durability, stations and how it works. It took many years, but we were getting ready in the biggest way possible.”
DCJ ships about two million motorcycles a year and the joint venture marks the first time it will build an electric motorcycle. “They’ve been looking for technology to transition to electric, and we’ve been talking to them for almost two years to prove that our platform is the right platform for them to start the transition to electric vehicles,” said Luke.
Yadea sold more than 10 million electric two-wheelers in 2020, but wanted an alternative to lithium-ion batteries, he added. Along with Aima, Yadea is one of the best-known affordable electric two-wheeler brands in China, while Niu dominates the premium market.
Gogoro has raised about $480 million in funding since it was founded in 2011, with investors including HTC, Temasek Holdings and Generation Investment Management (GIM), the green-tech investment firm co-founded by former United States vice president Al Gore.
In a press statement, Gore, who is GIM’s chairman, said, “Gogoro’s partnership with Yadea and DCJ in China, which builds upon their existing work with Hero MotoCorp in India, sends a clear signal that the world’s two-wheel leaders are helping to fuel the sustainability revolution in Asia with smart battery swapping.”
Canoo, the Los Angeles-based electric vehicle startup that debuted on the Nasdaq public exchange earlier this year, is being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, just months after its merger with special purpose acquisition company Hennessy Capital Acquisition Corp.
The investigation is broad, covering the Hennessy’s initial public offering and merger with Canoo, the company’s operations, business model, revenues, revenue strategy, customer agreements, earnings and other related topics, along with the recent departures of certain of the company’s officers, according to a quarterly earnings report posted Monday. Canoo learned of the investigation on April 29. Canoo’s share price fell more than 3% in after-hours trading following the release of its first-quarter earnings.
“The SEC has also informed the Company that the investigation does not mean that it has concluded that anyone has violated the law, and does not mean that it has a negative opinion of any person, entity or security. We intend to provide the requested information and cooperate fully with the SEC investigation,” Canoo noted in the regulatory filing. Canoo added that it does not consider the investigation or other lawsuits it is facing to be material to its business.
The SEC investigation follows a string of executive departures, a change to some of the core pieces of its business model, the loss of a key automotive partnership and at least one lawsuit brought by shareholders. And that’s just the activity since the first of the year.
Canoo started as Evelozcity in 2017, founded by former Faraday Future executives Stefan Krause and Ulrich Kranz. The company rebranded as Canoo in spring 2019 and debuted its first vehicle several months later. It was this first vehicle, as well as Canoo’s plan to offer it only as a subscription, that captured the attention of investors, companies and the media. Last year, Hyundai announced a partnership with Canoo to co-develop EVs, but that deal fell apart in early 2021 after the company changed its business model and decided to not offer engineering services to other automakers, according to comments made by the company’s chairman and now CEO Tony Aquila in a March investors’ call.
Canoo has sustained numerous executive departures, including co-founder and CEO Kranz, general counsel Andrew Wolstan, CFO Paul Balciunas and its head of powertrain development. Krause, who was the company’s first CEO, stepped down in August 2019. Last month, Canoo was also named as a defendant in two class-action complaints filed by shareholders.
Amid the executive exits and business pivots, the company has managed to narrow its quarterly losses despite an increase in R&D expenditures and no revenue. The company reported Monday a net loss of $15.2 million, or 7 cents a share, in the first quarter, compared to a loss of $30.9 million, or 37 cents a share, in the same period last year. The company said it ended the quarter with $641.9 million in cash and equivalents.
Los Angeles-based electric vehicle startup Canoo is bringing its first vehicle to market next year. The company said Monday its electric microbus-slash-van will be available to buy in 2022 at a base price of $34,750 before tax incentives or add-ons. It’s now taking preorders in the United States for the “lifestyle” vehicle, as well as for its round-top pickup truck and multi-purpose delivery van.
While Canoo did not release pricing for the other two vehicles, it did said that deliveries for the pickup and production for the delivery van are slated to start as early as 2023. Customers can reserve a model by placing a $100 deposit per vehicle with the company.
The lifestyle van will come in four trims, including base, premium, adventure and so-called Lifestyle Vehicle Delivery The adventure variant, which is the top trim and comes with more ground clearance and beefier profile, does not yet have a price. The base, delivery (not to be confused with the bigger multipurpose delivery van) and premium models will be priced up to $49,950, the company said. The company said the lifestyle van is expected to be able to produce 300 hp and 332 pound-feet of torque with 250 miles of battery range.
Canoo is taking a different route than many other electric vehicle manufacturers. The company’s trio of vehicles all have the same proprietary “skateboard” platform architecture that houses the batteries and electric drivetrain in a chassis that sits under the vehicle’s cabin. This contributes to a similar design language between the vehicles, which all have the same wide front windshield and relatively low profile.
The company is especially deviating from competitors with its electric pickup, which is scheduled to go into production in early 2023. As opposed to rivals Ford and Rivian, which are emphasizing size and power in their respective F-150 Lighting and R1T pickup trucks, Canoo’s is smaller and more playful-looking. The Rivian R1T clocks in at 218 inches long, while the Canoo truck will be 184 inches. Canoo is also claiming a battery range of 200+ miles, far less than the 300+ boasted by other EV truck manufacturers. None of these companies have posted what the range will be when towing.
Canoo has undergone many transformations since its founding as Evelozcity in 2017. It was rebranded as Canoo in 2019 and merged with special purpose acquisition company Hennessy Capital Acquisition Corp. last December with a market valuation of $2.4 billion.
This year has been a bit bumpier for the company. The news on Monday comes less than a month after the company announced the resignations of its co-founder and CEO Ulrich Kranz and its general counsel Andrew Wolstan. Earlier this year, the company also lost its chief financial officer Paul Balciunas and its head of powertrain development.
Canoo’s skateboard architecture caught the eye of automaker Hyundai Motor Group, which last February said it would jointly develop an EV with Canoo based on the skateboard design. But during an investor call in March, Tony Aquila, who took over as company CEO following Kranz’s departure, said the deal was all but dead.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, a vocal proponent of electric vehicles, on Friday debuted a new proposal that would earmark $3.2 billion to boost EV infrastructure and adoption in the state.
“This is a big deal,” Newsom said at a press conference Friday. “The Biden Administration’s been talking a lot about this, they’re hoping to do something with the Senate, but we’re doing it. We’re not waiting around.”
Over half of the $3.2 billion budget would go toward replacing 1,150 trucks, 1,000 transit buses, and 1,000 school buses with electric models. Another $800 million would be put toward the state’s Clean Cars 4 All program, which aims to help lower-income drivers upgrade to a zero- or near-zero car, as well as further rebates or clean vehicles. The proposal earmarks $500 million towards infrastructure and $250 million would go toward manufacturing grants. Newsom did not specify what type of infrastructure programs would qualify; it’s likely those funds would go toward charging.
“Hyundai, we hope you are listening,” Newsom said, referring to the automaker’s announcement Thursday that it would invest $7.4 billion in the United States to manufacture EVs through 2025.
“Let’s start to wake up to the opportunities not to be reliant on foreign adversaries or interventions from those looking to extract resources through cyberattacks and/or other foreign governments that can abuse their privileges and rights as it relates to security and availability of fossil fuels,” he said. His comments were likely in reference to the recent cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline, which has led to gas shortages in swathes of the eastern United States.
The funds are a small sliver of his proposed $100 billion economic recovery package, dubbed “California Roars Back.” If it’s approved by the state legislature, it would be the largest recovery plan in the state’s history. Other proposals included in the package are nearly $1 billion to improve the state electric grid and invest in energy storage, green hydrogen and offshore wind development.
Last September, Newsom signed an executive order to phase out internal combustion engine passenger vehicles from being sold in the state by 2035. Transportation accounts for over half of all carbon emissions in the state.
Electric car startup Fisker signed an agreement with Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that assembles iPhones, to co-develop and manufacture a new electric vehicle. Production on the car, which will be sold under the Fisker brand name in North America, Europe, China and India, will begin in the U.S. by the end of 2023.
Numerous details, including the name of the car and the location of future manufacturing plants, have not been disclosed by the two companies. As for form factor, Fisker describes it as a “breakthrough new segment vehicle,” so neither a sedan nor an SUV, that’s capable of carrying five people, a Fisker spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Fisker is calling the joint program Project PEAR, which stands for Personal Electric Automotive Revolution. Fisker chairman and CEO Henrik Fisker has bragged that the PEAR vehicle will be the “next big thing in car design,” a car that’s both “emotionally desirable” and “eco-friendly,” meaning a car that doesn’t shout “Look at me, I’m electric!” and rather appeals to the driver moving over from gasoline vehicles, according to a spokesperson from Fisker
The two companies had signed a memorandum of understanding agreement in February, setting the expectation that a formal agreement would be reached by this time. Included in the agreement signed on Thursday is a goal to produce 250,000 units annually across multiple sites. In January, Foxconn partnered with Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group to form a joint venture that would provide car manufacturers with production and consulting services, so the deal with Fisker is one of the company’s first forays into the automotive industry.
“In order to deliver on our promise of product breakthroughs from Project PEAR, we needed to rethink every aspect of product development, sourcing and manufacturing,” said Fisker chairman and CEO Henrik Fisker in a statement. “Our partnership with Foxconn enables us to deliver those industry firsts at a price point that truly opens up electric mobility to the mass market.”
The new vehicle will be priced under $30,000, according to Fisker, who touted the uniqueness and innovation of his car’s designs. Fisker will also begin production on its first model, Ocean, an electric SUV, in Europe by the end of next year. The company also intends to release a prototype of Ocean at the Los Angeles Auto Show later this year.
“We have world-class supply chains in place to support Project PEAR – in particular, securing the reliable delivery of chipsets and semiconductors,” said Young-way Liu, chairman of Foxconn, in a statement.
Liu noted how Foxconn would be able to connect Project PEAR with suppliers around the world through its software and hardware open platform for EVs, MIH, which aligns with the company’s “3+3” vision which symbolizes the infinite technological and industry advancements available through the platform.
Foxconn and Fisker are still shopping for potential U.S. manufacturing sites, so they’ve set up an office between the U.S. and Taiwan to coordinate design, engineering, purchasing and manufacturing operations.
This article has been updated to reflect new information from Fisker.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Welp, lots happened. Shall we attempt to squeeze it all in? OK, let’s proceed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.