Hello readers: Welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.
Aria and Rebecca have a lot to share this week, so I’ll keep my intro short. I want to direct your attention to my latest podcast episode over at The Autonocast. Along with co-hosts Alex Roy and Ed Niedermeyer, I talk with recently-confirmed NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy about automotive safety and what the wave of what she calls “partial automation” features in vehicles means for the industry and the consumer.
The episode has garnered a lot of attention — some of it negative — because of our discussion about Tesla and the FSD software beta rolling out to owners. That’s an important issue considering that on Friday Tesla released a software update that allows owners to request access to its Full Self-Driving Beta program. As I reported last week, drivers who get a high safety score from Tesla will get access. (This is happening as studies, like this newly released one conducted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, show drivers using Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system may become inattentive.)
However, I hope listeners of the podcast episode will take away more from the conversation. For instance, I thought some of the more interesting comments were her thoughts on how Uber ATG reacted following the fatal crash involving its self-driving vehicle in Tempe several years ago.
The Micromobility America (MMA) conference was held this past week, bringing together (in person no less) the top thinkers, companies and investors in the industry. Here were some of the highlights and major themes:
Both Unagi Scooters and Cowboy launched new products onstage at MMA. Unagi’s high-end $2,440 smart scooter, the Model Eleven, is very tech-advanced, with features like audible directions and GPS tracking powered by Google, remote kill in the case of theft and even an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) sensor. The Bluetooth speakers allow riders to play their own music or podcasts as well as hear turn-by-turn directions. And because it’s an Unagi, it’s just as lightweight as you’d expect it to be, with a smooth ride on top of a dual suspension system.
I’m particularly interested in the ADAS system since I recently wrote about this trend. The company says it’s the first two-wheeled device in the world with an integrated ADAS system that detects objects in the periphery and warns of impending collisions or dangers with audio and visual on the display. Users can disable it if they choose.
“Unagi chose to build these sensors into the scooter because improving safety is a big priority and crucial to the future of micromobility as a category that can replace cars in cities,” a spokesperson from Unagi told TechCrunch. “Unagi is aiming to leverage future technologies to eventually control motor and brake, but for now, the ADAS only warns of collisions.”
While the Model Eleven is pretty pricey for a scooter, a financing option will be available once it launches, and Unagi’s subscription model will become available down the line, according to the company.
Cowboy’s launch of its slim-looking Cowboy 4 was also the talk of the town at MMA. Customers have the option of choosing the aluminum frame to be step-through, which instantly makes it more accessible. An integrated “cockpit” is exclusively available on the C4, which is basically a built-in Quad Lock to securely mount a smartphone so the rider can access real-time information like GPS or fitness data through the Cowboy app. Once docked, phones can actually be charged using the bike’s internal battery.
The C4 e-bike can travel up to 20 miles per hour in the United States (they’re restricted to 15 mph in the U.K. and Europe) and ride for about 43 miles on a single charge. It’s not the fastest bike or best battery on the market, but she is a beauty. Along with this launch, Cowboy has also pointed to its large and ever-expanding network of mobile ambassadors offering free repairs across seven countries, with nationwide coverage in Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and The Netherlands.
Micromobility moves beyond scooters and bikes
“We have a huge variety of products and form factors now,” Horace Dediu, an analyst, one of the hosts of MMA and the person who coined the term “micromobility,” told TechCrunch. “We have everything from monowheels like OneWheel, scooters with two wheels and three wheels. We have Arcimoto, we have bikes, we have motorcycles. We even have a very small automobile that’s basically a car.”
“But that’s what micromobility is all about,” he continued. “It’s not just one thing, one form factor. We need more kinds of form factors and there’s more coming. It feels like the early days of the personal computer or mobile phone era. Experiments are running and startups are trying things out, so it’s super exciting.”
Exhibit A: Andrew Yang riding a OneWheel.
Coming out of the pandemic swinging
“The pandemic actually really helped everybody to rethink their business model and make sure they focus on the efficiencies, so the mindset coming out of the pandemic is that it beat a lot of sense into people that you really have to run a sustainable business,” Tony Ho, VP of global business development at Segway-Ninebot, told TechCrunch. “Almost everybody here sees us coming out of the pandemic very strong, that’s the general feeling.”
One way that feeling is manifesting for micromobility operators is in taking a look at cost of ownership and operational efficiencies, says Ho. Labor for charging vehicles and maintaining them is a huge part of getting the unit economics right, which is why we’re seeing a range of different tech working to address the problem and help operators run their fleets better, from scooters that you can summon to you or that can be teleoperated to move out of the way to scooters that have cameras built in to ensure safe rider behavior.
When Ed Niedermeyer, director of communication of Partners for Automated Vehicle Education and co-host with our own Kirsten Korosec on the Autonocast podcast, first attended the MMA event two years ago, it was mostly a bubble of VCs, hardware startups and sharing companies. The public sector did not make much of an appearance, and it was probably still annoyed with companies for doing the VC thing and blitz-scaling to the point of annoyance and public hazard. Now, there’s been a systemic, cultural shift, which was reflected in the attendance at the event, says Niedermeyer.
“The fact that you had a presidential candidate (Andrew Yang) as a keynote speaker gives the event a cultural positioning and helps you frame it as, this is not just companies selling a device,” Niedermeyer told TechCrunch. “[Yang’s] presence effectively reflected this sort of broader reframing of micromobility as a system or as an alternate vision for mobility in cities. I think the space has matured a lot. There’s a lot less of that kind of VC bubble feel and much more like, how do we have a long-term conversation about this.”
Shared micromobility operators were onstage celebrating how much ridership has increased post-COVID due to the reduction of public transit use. Jesse Fittipaldi, chief strategy officer at compact electric utility vehicle company Arcimoto, said when micromobility first appeared on the scene, there were a lot of skeptics. Now that it’s become more mainstream, companies are seeing their numbers increase in ways they never thought would happen.
“I think hope is alive,” Fittipaldi told TechCrunch. “I think that the people need to be educated right now, and there are people here working to do that. The legislators, operators, venture capitalists and the banks, the software developers, all of the things that actually make these systems work — I see them here. I see them learning and transferring knowledge, and that’s key for where we are right now.”
Others news from the week …
Bird integrates local operators into the app
Shared micromobility operator Bird announced the integration of local bikeshare providers into the Bird app so that multiple multimodal mobility options can all be seen in one place. The integration, which utilizes a General Bikeshare Feed Specification, an open source feed for public bikeshare companies, is now live in Oslo, Austin, Los Angeles, San Antonio and Milwaukee. Featured operators include Oslo City Bike, Metrobike Austin, Metro Bike, SA Bikeshare and Bublr Bikes Milwaukee.
The launch is part of Bird’s Smart Bikeshare Program first announced in June when the company also announced its new shared e-bikes. The integration allows more visibility for local operators and is completely cost-free to them and to cities. Riders searching for vehicles in the Bird app will also be able to see nearby public bike stations with available bikes, and they can tap the icon to be taken to the local app to start the rental process.
New Zealand-based electric utility bike company Ubco announced an additional $10 million investment from TPK Holdings, a previous investor that will now be leading the startup’s Series B. As part of the strategic investment, TPK, a Taiwanese electric components manufacturing company, will use its vast network to help Ubco secure parts and supplies for its flagship 2X2 bike more easily and cheaply. In the future, TPK will provide dedicated manufacturing support for Ubco’s new FRX1, a recreational off-road bike, and a four-wheel utility vehicle.
Smart commercial scooter and bike parking and charging provider Bikeep closed a $3 million investment round which it will use to build up a partnership network with local companies to bring Bikeep stations to cities in the U.S., according to the company. British Columbia’s TransLink provides an example of what Bikeep looks like in the real world. It’s got smart locking systems as well as Bikeep’s IoT to create an on-demand bike locker program where cyclists can buy daily or monthly passes through the app.
Quadricycles, coming to a city near you
Eli Electric Vehicles, a compact EV manufacturer, has announced the start of production of its flagship Eli Zero. It’s a tiny wee thing, made in the quadricycle fashion, complete with two seats and about 160 liters’ worth of storage in the trunk. The plan is to roll out small batches of the small electric vehicle across 10 European countries over the next few months. Starting price is about $11,999.
New two-wheel swag
Rad Power Bikes, one of the most well-funded e-bike companies in North America, unveiled the RadCity 5 Plus, the next generation of its commuter e-bike. The bike has a bit of an upgrade on its last model, with the ability to climb hills 40% faster and 11% more range. The more range is due to the new tires, which include hydraulic disc brakes and longer-lasting ceramic pads for more stopping power and control. The bike also has a high-step and a step-thru frame and can accommodate riders from 4’8″ to 6’5″. It’s available for preorder online now in the U.S. and Canada for $1,799 and will be coming to Europe in the winter.
The founders of London-based e-bike company Analog Motion have launched a new brand of e-bikes called nothng (intentional lowercase and spelling error). The bike’s whole shtick is that less is more. The minimalist bike is an electric fixie that does come with head and tail lights, at least, but is generally going for fewer parts and less maintenance. It can reach a top speed of 20 miles per hour in the U.S., 16 miles per hour in Europe. The company is funding the bike with Indiegogo, and has already reached 559% of its funding goal. Assuming the bike makes it to production, backers who have paid the £905 ($1,233) preorder price should get their bikes by spring 2022. By the way, that £905 is apparently 40% off the recommended retail price, which means when it comes to market this very simple bike will end up costing around £1,500 ($2,050).
Harley-Davidson’s bike arm, Serial 1, is selling a limited edition of its first e-bike, the MOSH/TRIBUTE. It’s a vintage prototype that pays homage to HD’s Americana vibes, but it’s got all the tech you’d expect from a bike being released in 2021, including a powerful motor that reaches top speeds of 20 miles per hour and a removable, semi-integrated battery that can go up to 105 miles. Serial 1 is just releasing 650 units, half in the U.S. and half in Europe, with delivery expected for late Q4 this year.
Specialized has introduced its next-gen e-bikes, the Turbo Vado, Turbo Como and Turbo Tero. The bikes are meant to be smooth and comfortable, with the ability to improve functionality over time via over-the-air software updates and tech that addresses safety and theft specifically. The Vado 5.0 is ideal for city riders. The Como 5.0 has a comfortable step-through design and an upright position for more comfort. It’s available for preorder. And the Tero 5.0 is built for all-terrain exploration and utility trips. All three bikes cost $5,000.
Early-stage NYC-based Pave Motors has announced its Pave Bike, an e-moped that has the look and feel of an e-bike (kind of) with the small engine of a motorcycle, is available for preorder. The company recently successfully sold a limited supply of a first batch, and now is gearing up for more production. But this isn’t just any bike, folks. Apparently, Pave Bikes are connected to a private blockchain network that “enhances security by leveraging non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to unlock the Pave Bike, and enables secure sharing through smart rental contracts,” according to Pave.
Each rider gets an NFT, which they can access on the Pave+ app, that gives them access to their bike without an internet connection. This also lets users share their bikes with friends or as a side hustle for payment. Neat, huh? The moped itself can hit a max speed of 30 miles per hour and offers 50 miles of range per charge. Pricing starts at $3,900, or $108 per month, and preorders can be submitted with a $100 deposit. The moped is expected to begin shipping at the start of next year.
— Rebecca Bellan
Deal of the week
It’s not one giant deal that I want to flag this week; it’s a collection of them — all which are in the delivery and logistics sectors. The deal-making in these related industries has been fast and furious. Every week I think out loud: this surely is the end of this trend, right? Nope.
Take this week as an example. DoorDash led a fundraising round in Berlin-based grocery delivery startup Flink SE with a pre-money valuation of $2.1 billion, according to sources cited by Bloomberg. The round is apparently several hundred million dollars.
Meanwhile in another scoop from Bloomberg, news leaked that German food delivery company Delivery Hero plans to invest close to $200 million in grocery startup Gorillas Technologies as part of a $1 billion funding round. That new financing will value Gorillas at about $3 billion after the deal is closed. DoorDash was reportedly negotiating an investment earlier this summer with Gorillas; however, those talks eventually broke down.
And then there is Best, the Chinese logistics company backed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. that is considering a sale of its express delivery business. The company reportedly is seeking a valuation of as much as $1 billion for the business. Oh, and how can I forget, Project44, a real-time supply chain visibility company acquired by last-mile tech platform Convey for $255 million. Together, the two companies will combine forces to provide end-to-end supply chain visibility, from the raw materials to the front door.
Sprinkled amongst these mega deals were smaller raises for same-day delivery and logistics companies, including a $7 million investment into Mexico City-based last-mile logistics platform Cargamos and a $28 million round backing Jiffy, the London grocery delivery upstart that operates a network of dark stores to do fulfillment.
Other deals that got my attention this week …
Battery Resourcers, a startup that’s developing a closed-loop approach to lithium-ion battery materials, raised $70 million in mid-round funding that included participation from new investor Hitachi Ventures, as well as existing investors Orbia Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures, Doral Energy, At One Ventures, TDK Ventures and Trumpf Ventures.
Cars24, a site and app that sells used cars and used two-wheeled motorbikes, has raised $450 million in a Series F round comprised of $340 million and $110 million in debt. The investment values Cars24 at $1.84 billion post-money, the company said, making it one of the more valuable privately held used car startups globally. DST Global, Falcon Edge and SoftBank Vision Fund 2 co-led the Series F, with Tencent and existing investors Moore Strategic Ventures and Exor Seeds also participating. The debt round came from a mix of financial institutions.
CDK Global, an automotive retail technology company, agreed to acquire insurance platform company Salty Dot. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Daiwa Securities Group Daiwa PI Partners Co. has acquired Tokyo-based bike retailer Y International.
General Motors said it will invest $300 million into Chinese autonomous driving startup Momenta to accelerate the development of AV tech for future GM vehicles in China. The news comes less than six months after Momenta closed a nearly $500 million funding round, which saw participation from SAIC, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz AG and Bosch. As TechCrunch’s Rita Liao has noted in the past, “mega-fundraising has become common in the capital-intensive autonomous vehicle world.” But it appears that the startup is moving closer to commercialization as it aims to mass-produce cars equipped with its software by the end of this year.
Iron Ox, the San Francisco Bay Area-based autonomous farming startup, raised $53 million in a Series C led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, brings the firm’s total funding up to $98 million.
Just Insure, a pay-per-mile insurance technology company, has raised $8 million in a funding round co-led by CrossCut Ventures, ManchesterStory and Western Technology Investments. The company has raised $15.3 million since its January 2019 inception.
Kavak, a Mexico City-based startup that operates a pre-owned car marketplace in Latin America, raised $700 million in a Series E round led by General Catalyst that more than doubles the company’s valuation to $8.7 billion. Tiger Global, Spruce House, D1, SEA, Founders Fund, Ribbit Capital, SoftBank and others also participated in the latest financing.
This comes just five months after Kavak raised $485 million in a Series D at a $4 billion valuation. The investment also marks the second time this year that Kavak has doubled its valuation. Kavak is now the second most valuable startup in all of Latin America — the first being Brazilian fintech Nubank, which earlier this year was valued at $30 billion.
Mercedes-Benz agreed to take a 33% stake in battery cell manufacturer Automotive Cells Company. The automaker is now an equal shareholder alongside Stellantis and TotalEnergies. The move will help Mercedes reach its electric only portfolio target, which it has said will require a total battery production capacity of more than 200 Gigawatt hours by the end of the decade.
National Express is in talks to buy rival Stagecoach in an all-share deal that would combine the U.K.’s biggest coach and bus operators, The Guardian reported. The agreement would value Stagecoach at about £445 million ($608.9 million), an 18% premium on the closing price of the company’s shares on Monday when the deal was announced.
Spotnana, software-as-a-service platform for travel buyers and suppliers, emerged from stealth with $41 million in its pocket and an open global platform targeting the $1.4 trillion business travel industry. Its funding includes a $34 million Series A, co-led by ICONIQ and Madrona Venture Group with participation from Decibel and Mubadala Capital, and a previous undisclosed $7 million seed round from 2020, also from ICONIQ and Madrona and including 8VC and Global Founders Capital.
Hello everyone! Welcome back to Policy Corner. We’ve got a lot to get to today, so let’s get started.
First, the chip shortage that’s held multiple industries by the throat for the past 18 months is continuing unabated. Consulting firm AlixPartners forecast this week that the shortage will cost the automotive industry $210 billion in this year alone — that’s up from the firm’s mid-year estimation of $110 billion.
In response to the ongoing supply chain squeeze, the White House held its second summit with companies in the semiconductor market (TechCrunch covered the first meeting), including Ford, Stellantis, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, General Motors, Intel and Apple. While it’s unclear what exactly came out of the meeting, it was likely another information-sharing session, both between industry and government and also between industry players, especially the manufacturers of chips and their customers.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in advance of the meeting Thursday that Biden’s administration would continue to press for Congress to pass legislation to strengthen domestic manufacturing capacity for chips. There’s currently a bill in the House, the Chips for America Act, that would earmark $52 billion to shore up such capacity, but no action has yet been taken on it.
In other news, let’s talk autonomous vehicles and advanced driver assistance systems. Spoiler alert: they’re not the same thing! Tech industry policy coalition Chamber of Progress recently questioned Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) recent conflation of the two technologies in a letter to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration criticizing Tesla’s marketing of “Full Self Driving.”
Ariel Wolf, general counsel at the special interest group Self Driving Coalition, told Policy Corner in a recent interview that the group also continues to see ADAS and AVs being conflated.
“It’s damaging the public’s understanding of the two distinct technologies,” he said. “There’s no question that that’s occurring, and it’s starting to bleed over and it’s creating this safety risk. In a very real sense it’s creating this safety risk because that conflation leads people to misuse the ADAS. But certainly it jeopardizes the future of AVs, because the public then looks at ADAS failures and targets AVs.”
Self Driving Coalition, along with over a dozen other groups, including Alliance for Automotive Innovation, sent their own letter — to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, urging the Department of Transportation to implement regulations and a framework for the safe deployment of AVs. Wolf said some of the biggest question marks include: creating a predictable timeline around caps on the number of AV models that can receive regulatory exemption from certain federal motor vehicle standards (these exemptions allow AV developers to test their vehicles in real-world environments); and how the Department plans to address novel vehicle designs.
Other pieces of news this week …
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that will require all AVs to be electric by 2030. AV developers Cruise, Nuro and Zoox, along with the Union of Concerned Scientists, each came out in favor of the bill. Rebecca Bellan gives a good summary of the legislation, and its stakes, here.
The German environmental NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe filed a lawsuit against Daimler and BMW, alleging that the two automakers are not doing enough to curb carbon emissions by the end of the decade. The news was first reported by the German newspaper Handelsblatt. This case is notable for two reasons: one, it’s an example of private citizens bringing a climate change lawsuit against a company; and two, it will require the two automakers to show that they are doing everything they can to meet Germany’s statutory climate targets.
— Aria Alamalhodaei
Notable news and other tidbits
FedEx has started to use self-driving trucks to haul goods between Dallas and Houston as part of a pilot program with autonomous vehicle startup Aurora and heavy-duty vehicle manufacturer Paccar. Paccar trucks that are equipped with Aurora’s technology will be used multiple times a week to complete the nearly 500-mile route along Interstate 45, the companies said Wednesday. The trucks will operate autonomously with a backup safety driver.
Motional is expanding its operations and employee headcount in Las Vegas, including tripling the size of its testing facility, in the run up to its planned 2023 commercial deployment of robotaxis.
Ford Motor tapped Redwood Materials to create a closed loop system for its upcoming deluge of electric vehicles — a partnership that will cover recycling production scrap and EVs at the end of their life as well as supplying the automaker with raw battery materials. The companies also disclosed that Ford invested $50 million into Redwood.
General Motors will replace battery modules in recalled Chevrolet Bolt EV and Bolt EUV vehicles as soon as next month now that supplier LG Chem has restarted production of cells at two Michigan factories. Replacement modules, which are made up of lithium-ion battery cells, will begin shipping to dealers as soon as mid-October. Chevy Bolt EV owners will be able to bring their vehicles to the dealership, where the old modules will be swapped out for new ones.
Tesla broke ground on its “Megafactory,” a new production facility in California, so christened because it will produce the company’s large-scale battery system Megapack. News of the previously unannounced factory was confirmed by the Lathrop Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal. The factory, in the small northern California city of Lathrop, is near Tesla’s automotive plant in Fremont. Lathrop is also home to Tesla’s 870,000-square-foot distribution center.
Audi launched the Q4 e-tron, an entry-level electric SUV model and the fifth electric vehicle in its growing portfolio. The vehicle has a starting price of $44,995, including the $1,095 destination charge. It’s worth noting that the Q4 electric vehicle is about $1,000 cheaper than the gas-powered 2022 Q5 SUV.
Eli Electric Vehicles, an early-stage compact EV manufacturer, started production of its flagship Eli Zero, a micro “neighborhood electric vehicle” that is built for city commuting. The company plans to roll out small batches of the two-seater EV to distributors across 10 European countries over the next few months, with a starting price of $11,999.
Foxconn and oil supplier PTT PLC are moving forward with an agreement to start an electric vehicle manufacturing facility in Thailand. The facility is expected to begin rolling out vehicles by 2023. Foxconn and PTT signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on EV production in June, with PTT owning 60% of the joint venture and Foxconn owning the remaining 40%. The initial production capacity of the Thailand facility will be around 50,000 units, which Foxconn says will increase three-fold by 2030.
Mercedes-Benz released pricing on its flagship EQS electric vehicle. The tl;dr is that the EQS is about $8,700 cheaper than its gas-powered S-Class counterpart. The EQS, which will arrive in U.S. dealerships in fall 2021, will start at $103,360, including the $1,050 destination charge. The federal tax credit will provide another $7,500 off of the sticker price.
Rivian plans to open in Plymouth, Michigan a service support operations facility for vehicle owners ahead of deliveries of the launch edition of the R1T pickup. The facility will create 100 new jobs and come at an investment of $4.6 million, $750,000 of which comes from a business development grant from the state.
Workhorse Group recalled 41 of its C-1000 cargo delivery vehicles and suspended the remainder of its deliveries for this model, telling regulators that “additional testing” is needed to certify the vehicles under Federal safety standards. All automakers must certify their vehicles under the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, minimum safety performance requirements issued by the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration.
Uber said it could hit one measure of profitability in the third quarter, earlier than expected, as the ride-hailing company saw gains in its delivery and mobility businesses. The ride-hailing service told regulators in a filing that it anticipated an increase in gross bookings and stronger adjusted EBITDA in the quarter than it had forecasted for shareholders in its last investor presentation.
GM and Amazon have expanded their partnership to allow owners of Alexa devices to use the automaker’s OnStar emergency services from their homes. OnStar already expanded OnStar Guardian earlier this year with the introduction of the Guardian app, which lets customers access the service via their mobile device. This latest expansion will now bring customers’ voice-enabled home devices into that ecosystem.
A host of features are being added to Google’s Android Auto experience, and the company’s Automotive OS will come to more cars including, for the first time, Honda vehicles from 2022 onwards.
Cruise co-founder, president and CTO Kyle Vogt has been appointed to the board of Upside Foods, a cell-cultured meat company. If that seems like an odd appointment that has zero to do with AVs, take a look at Vogt’s Twitter feed over the past several years. The entrepreneur is an advocate for a plant-based diet and was behind the launch of a restaurant called BAIA.
Instacart‘s former chief financial officer Sagar Sanghvi, who departed the on-demand grocery delivery company after nearly six years, has joined Accel as a partner focused on global growth-stage consumer and enterprise investments.