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Hello and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.
As you are reading this, I’ll be preparing to head out for an adventure, joining thousands of others who plan to jump in their cars, trucks, SUVs, and of course, vans and RVs for the great American road trip. While much of my time will be spent hiking in more remote wilderness, I will end up in Yellowstone National Park, which promises to be a busy affair. For those of you who are shaking your heads wondering why I would subject myself to the masses, I say consider this fun tidbit: According to one local guidebook, 98% of visitors to Yellowstone can be found within one mile of any trailhead. My previous anecdotal experiences supports this stat; I’ve found that most stick to their cars, paved paths, overlooks and boardwalks. I will not be.
I will, however, make one exception while I’m in the park. I plan to check out the autonomous shuttle that will be piloted in the park. Beep, in partnership with Local Motors, will be operating the autonomous shuttle called T.E.D.D.Y., which stands for The Electric Driverless Demonstration in Yellowstone. T.E.D.D.Y. is meant to give homage to former President Theodore Roosevelt.
The company plans to operate two routes, seven days a week. Information collected during the pilot will be used to inform future deployments in national parks across the country.
It’s been a week of funding announcements and new vehicles in the micromobility world. Two of the e-scooter giants, Spin and Bird, have announced some fresh launches. Spin’s got its first in-house designed and built electric scooter, which it’s calling the S-100T. The T is for “tough,” which is how Spin is positioning this scooter. It can get beat up on the streets, and in testing, and still last up to three years, maybe even more. Spin will start rolling out its scooter when it launches in Sacramento in July.
Bird is launching some e-bikes to its fleet of e-scooters, which will start in Cleveland, Ohio later this year. Bird’s choice to become multi-modal happens at a time when its biggest competitor, Lime, has already had bikes and is now working with e-mopeds. Bird is also launching a ‘Smart Bikeshare’ platform, wherein local shared e-bike and e-moped (but NOT e-scooter) operators can put their vehicles on the Bird app, thus making it seem like Bird has more of a multi-modal fleet than it does, and giving the local operators some more clout and attention.
Following the money
Speaking of local operators, micromobility software provider Joyride believes more small shared e-scooter and e-bike businesses are cropping up, especially in areas where Bird and Lime pulled out during the pandemic. To help those companies get a fleet, launch it and manage it is Joyride. The company has been around since 2014, but just raised a $3.7 million seed round so that it can expand its services and help reach more local operators.
And while we’re on the subject of funding, New Zealand-based electric utility bike startup Ubco has just raised $10 million to fund its global expansion, with a focus on the U.S. market, and scale up its commercial subscription business. Full disclosure, I’m currently in Auckland testing one of these things out and it’s “smooth as,” as the Kiwis say, so keep your eyes out for a review of the bike.
The Ubco 2X2 vehicle, which looks like a dirt bike and rides like a moped, started as a way to get farmers around the pasture, but the founders soon saw the utility vehicle’s utility beyond the farm. Now, the company supplies bikes to enterprise fleets, mail services, logistics and more. Ubco is working on a subscription model to make it easier for customers to rent a vehicle with no commitment, and easier for the company to own vehicle end-of-life in a sustainable way.
Tier Mobility, the Berlin-based e-scooter company that recently won one of the London permits and signed on some $60 million worth of debt from Goldman Sachs, has published an e-scooter safety report. The company formed a group called the Tier UK Safety Board in conjunction with charities and transport experts, Tier says. The group is calling for higher safety standards across the sector to protect pedestrians and improve rider safety, particularly for those who are blind or partially sighted.
Might this report just be a ploy for Tier to flex its safety records? Probably, but are the safety suggestions this group is likely trying to make into law also stuff that Tier already does? Also, yes, probably. Here are the things:
- Operators should be required to use more sophisticated parking tech that doesn’t rely solely on GPS so e-scooters don’t become an obstacle (See: Partially sighted woman trips on scooter).
- Operators should be required to adopt an acoustic vehicle alert to safely alert pedestrians to e-scooters on the street.
- The introduction of a 12.5 mph speed limit on all scooters, even privately owned ones.
By the way, over at Extra Crunch, I interviewed Veo CEO Candice Xie. I think you’ll find it’s worth checking out.
— Rebecca Bellan
It’s been a SPAC-tacular week. Yes, I went there.
SPACs, or special purpose acquisition companies, have received a lot of attention in this newsletter. And that’s because the financial instrument, which allows a faster but more expensive path to an IPO, has inundated the transportation sector. Some 22 mobility SPACs occurred in 2020 with the majority of them involving electric vehicle manufacturers like the troubled Nikola Motors and Lordstown Motors, as well as Canoo, which has had its own drama, and Fisker.
In 2021, we’ve seen aviation-related companies take the SPAC plunge along with lidar companies and autonomous vehicle startups. This week, we had solid state lidar company Quanergy and self-driving trucks startup Embark make SPAC deals.
Other deals that got my attention this week …
BMW’s Silicon Valley-based venture capital arm is investing in Kodiak Robotics, a company that develops autonomous trucking technology. While the terms of the deal were not disclosed, Kodiak told TechCrunch that BMW’s investment was financial, not strategic, meaning there’s no technical partnership between the two companies.
Clean Mobility Options Voucher Pilot Program awarded vouchers for mobility projects worth $18 million to eligible under-resourced communities and $2 million set aside and awarded specifically to Native American tribal governments. The funds will be used to support projects that includes on-demand shuttles and microtransit, electric vehicle car sharing, bike and scooter-sharing, carpooling and vanpooling and ride-on-demand services.
Electra Vehicles, which develops software to optimize EV battery system performance, raised $3.6 million in seed funding. The round was led by BlackBerry Limited and the Italian investment group LIFTT S.p.A, with further participation from Club degli Investitori, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, Hyperplane Venture Capital, Prithvi Ventures, Launchpad Venture Group and TiE Boston Angels.
Holy Grail, a two-year-old startup based in Mountain View, California that is taking a micro approach to solving the outsized problem of capturing carbon, raised $2.7 million in seed funding from LowerCarbon Capital, Goat Capital, Stripe founder Patrick Collison, Charlie Songhurst, Cruise co-founder Kyle Vogt, Songkick co-founder Ian Hogarth, Starlight Ventures and 35 Ventures. Existing investors Deep Science Ventures, Y Combinator and Oliver Cameron, who co-founded Voyage, the autonomous vehicle acquired by Cruise, also participated.
IoTecha, an electric vehicle charging company, has raised $13.2 million in a round led by BP Ventures. The venture firm invested $7 million into the fund. IoTecha connects EV chargers with the electricity grid through its software platform. Their product allows private and fleet vehicles from any manufacturer to communicate with charging stations to signal when they need recharging. It works by gathering information over time, identifying patterns and the energy requirements of each user across all forms of EV charging. IoTecha said that it will use the investment to scale its technology throughout BP’s electrification network.
Lendbuzz, an auto finance platform, has raised $360 million in capital and debt. The $60 million in funding was led by Wellington Management joined by Goldman Sachs & Co and MUFG Innovation Partners. The $300 million in debt financing was led by Goldman Sachs Bank USA. The company, which sells its loan origination and servicing software to dealerships, said it will use the funds to continue its expansion in the United States.
Nikola Corporation is investing $50 million in cash and stock in exchange for a 20% equity in a clean hydrogen project being developed by Wabash Valley Resources LLC. The project will use solid-waste and biomass to produce hydrogen for transportation fuel and electricity generation. Pablo Koziner, Nikola’s President of Energy and Commercial, said in a press release that the project should support future truck sales and the rollout of hydrogen stations throughout the Midwest.
Sendle, a shipping carrier that uses carbon offsetting to run carbon neutral operations for small businesses, has raised a $35 million Series C. The round was led by AP Ventures, with participation from existing investors including Federation, Full Circle and NRMA. Sendle said it would use the funds to expand its operations in the U.S.
Uber reached a deal to become the sole owner of Latin American delivery startup Cornershop, one year after acquiring a majority stake in the company. Uber is acquiring the remaining 47% interest in Cornershop in exchange for 29 million shares. The transaction, which will make Cornershop a wholly owned subsidiary of Uber, is expected to close in July.
Hi folks, welcome back to Policy Corner. We’ve got a short one this week but I promise the piece of news is a big one.
President Joe Biden and a group of Senators have struck a deal on a massive infrastructure bill after months of debate. The $1.2 trillion agreement touches nearly all traditional forms of infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and railways – but it also includes some funds for electric transportation.
Unsurprisingly, this was one of the major sources of disagreement among lawmakers, so the funds for these initiatives is far, far less than what Biden originally proposed when he introduced the bill in March. He originally included new rebates for EV purchases, a proposal that’s been wiped from the new bill.
However, the bill does earmark $7.5 billion for electric buses and $7.5 billion to build out EV charging stations. While this is perhaps less than what advocates had been hoping for (and truthfully just a sliver of the original proposal), it’s still a big improvement from last year’s spending on such initiatives.
— Aria Alamalhodaei
Notable reads and other tidbits
As per ushe, there is a lot of news. Let’s get to it.
Aurora‘s Board of Directors gained a new member: Sonos’ chief financial officer Brittany Bagley. The company said in a blog post that she brings “a keen understanding of how to ship industry-defining products and a strong sense of fiscal stewardship.”
Plus has hired Lynn Miller as General Counsel. Miller was formerly the Deputy General Counsel at Tesla, where she led Tesla’s privacy program, handled government inquiries and investigations, and led its litigation strategy. Prior to working at Tesla, Miller was part of Apple’s litigation team.
Pony.ai is considering going public, company CEO James Peng told Reuters on Friday. The company also announced that Lawrence Steyn, vice chairman of investment banking at JPMorgan Chase, would join as chief financial officer. The autonomous tech unicorn has operated robotaxis with human safety drivers in Irvine, California as well as China.
Volvo’s flagship electric SUV, which will debut in 2022, will be outfitted with Luminar’s autonomous driving stack as standard. When the two companies announced the partnership last year, the arrangement was that customers would have to pay extra for Luminar’s system. No longer! But customers will have to pay to access the Highway Pilot functionality, which takes drivers ‘out of the loop’ on highway roads once conditions are verified as safe.
Electric Last Mile Solutions, a company that manufactures and sells electric vans and trucks to fleet customers, is heading to the Nasdaq on Monday. ELMS is merging with special purpose acquisition company Forum Merger III Corporation in a SPAC deal valued at $1.4 billion. The SPAC transaction, which was announced last December, will give ELMS $379 million in gross cash proceeds, including $155 million in private investment in public equity (PIPE) funding from private investors BNP Paribas Asset Management and Jennison Associates. The company will be listed on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “ELMS.”
Panasonic divested the entirety of its Tesla stock last fiscal year for around $3.61 billion, Nikkei Asia reported. Panasonic is Tesla’s electric-vehicle battery supplier for its Nevada Gigafactory, and the two companies have had a partnership going back over a decade. An executive for the Japanese company told Nikkei that that relationship “will not change going forward.”
Toyota has entered into an intended partnership VivoPower to use its electrical vehicle convertor kits in Toyota LandCruisers. Through the deal, VivoPower will have exclusivity for the electrification of LandCruisers for five years. This is the first time Toyota has approved an external drive train supplier since Tesla in 2011. The conversion kits will be designed and manufactured by VivoPower subsidiary Tembo e-LV B.V.
Revel’s plans to deploy a fleet of ride-hailing Teslas may have hit a major block after New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission voted against issuing new for-hire vehicle licenses to EVs. The Verge’s Andrew Hawkins said the vote was seen as a snub toward the startup. Revel was planning on launching a ride-hailing service using a fleet of Tesla Model Ys.
Ryder System, a company that offers heavy-duty truck rentals to commercial fleet customers, was hacked last December. In a letter posted to Vermont’s Attorney General website, the Miami-based company said it was notifying 3,563 individuals of the “unauthorized intrusion.” Customers’ driver’s license numbers, social security numbers (which I’m told by TechCrunch writer Zack Whittaker is highly unusual), and other identifying information was potentially involved in the data breach.
Porsche is going into the battery business. The automaker announced a new joint venture with Customcells to open a 100 megawatt-hours battery manufacturing plant in Germany. For reference, that’s enough batteries for around 1,000 vehicles. The batteries will be manufactured for Porsche’s line of racing and high-performance vehicles.