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This is the time of year when the news cycle is supposed to slow. It didn’t, at least not this week.
One eye-popping item this week was the NYT’s investigative piece on Tesla, Elon Musk and his influence on designing the company’s Autopilot driver-assistance system. Two days after that article ran, which contained a number of interesting and troubling details, including that the company’s 2016 “our cars are fully driverless” video was faked, another NYT article reported that Tesla owners can play video games while driving.
While the federal government’s top auto safety regulator says it is looking into the gaming-while-driving feature, I am less than confident anything will come of it. My lingering question, and one that comes up every time Tesla pushes the boundaries of safety, is will this be the time when regulators step in? That question has not been answered.
Meanwhile, CNBC reported that Tesla is replacing repeater cameras in the front fenders of at least several hundred Model S, X and 3 vehicles made in Fremont, California. The company has not yet initiated a voluntary recall, according to internal service documents the company distributed in late November, CNBC reported.
Just a small item for comparison, Mercedes issued a voluntary recall, which was conducted via a software update, for the EQS because its massive infotainment screens allow drivers to watch TV and browse the internet while driving.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but are we close to reaching the point of no return on our micromobility revolution? A very promising McKinsey study that just came out found about 70% of people worldwide would ride a bike, moped or e-scooter to work if they could. And why wouldn’t you? You don’t need a 3,000 pound car to carry around a 150-pound person, but you do need to make it easier and safer for people to buy and ride smaller vehicles.
Enter U.S. lawmakers, who are working on a 30% tax credit for up to $3,000 spent on a new e-bike. That’s a credit of up to $900, and it suddenly makes e-bikes far more affordable to a number of people. Data from the NPD Group, which tracks retail bike sales, found that 60% of bikes sold over the past year or so cost either less than $500 or more than $3,500, with the fastest growth happening for bikes ranging from $1,500 to $2,000.
Incentives are great and all, but infrastructure matters, too, so it’s worth highlighting when cities do good work. Milan, for example, is investing €250 million into its Urban Biking Strategy that’ll see the birth of fast cycle corridors with better public transit integration. Jersey City, New Jersey, is working with Oonee to create a holistic network of secure bike parking, with 30 protected lockers located near bus stops that can be used to store bikes and scooters, as well as doubling as transit shelters by offering covered seating.
For places where the road infrastructure isn’t as favorable to safe riding conditions, there are companies working to solve that problem. Software company Terranet AB, for example, announced plans to produce BlincBike, a camera-based collision warning system for e-bikes. The company hopes to start taking pre-orders in July, so set a reminder on your phone if you’re interested.
All of the stars appear to be aligning toward the potential for exponential growth in micromobility adoption. Maybe it’s just the New Zealand summer, maybe it’s proximity to the holidays, but I’m feeling hopeful.
— Rebecca Bellan
Deal of the week
The end of the year is fixin’ to be an active one for IPOs — or at least plans for them. The latest is news that Intel plans to take Mobileye, the advanced driver assistance and automated driving subsidiary it acquired for $15 billion more than four years ago, public.
Spinning Mobileye out into a separate publicly traded company could increase value for Intel shareholders. A source told TechCrunch the IPO is expected to take about six months, a timeline that suggests it has not yet started the typical IPO roadshow process.
Intel will remain the majority owner of Mobileye, and the two companies will continue as strategic partners and collaborate on projects.
Other deals that got my attention …
BMW i Ventures led the seed financing round of Rapid Liquid Print, which has developed 3D printers for elastomers that produce large-scale, high-resolution, soft and stretchable products with industrial materials such as soft rubber, silicone and foams.
Candela, a developer of electric hydrofoiling boats, raised $24 million to accelerate production of its existing small craft and a larger commercial one.
Carma, an Australia-based online used car startup, raised a $20 million (AUD $28 million) seed round from Tiger Global. Carma has been operating in stealth for the past nine months and said the funding enabled the company to recruit an executive team, develop its website and establish its first inspection and reconditioning facility in Sydney.
Flink, the Berlin-based startup that sells food and other essentials and aims to deliver them in less than 10 minutes, raised $750 million, a Series B round of funding led by a strategic backer, DoorDash. The deal gives Flink a post-money valuation of $2.85 billion.
Hitachi is considering options to streamline its business, including the potential sale of its minority stake in a transportation unit, Bloomberg reported.
Ola, the Indian ride-hailing giant, raised $139 million at a valuation of about $7.3 billion, it said in a filing, ahead of its plans to file for an initial public offering early next year. Mumbai-headquartered financial giant Edelweiss led the new investment tranche. IIFL, Siddhant Partners, Tejal Merchantile and Hero Enterprise also invested money.
Robotic Research, a self-driving technology company that has spent the last two decades developing on and off-road autonomous vehicles for the Department of Defense, raised a $228 million Series A round. The round was led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and Enlightenment Capital. Crescent Cove Advisors, Henry Crown and Company and Luminar, a lidar company, also participated in the investment.
Serve Robotics, the autonomous sidewalk delivery company that spun out from Uber-owned Postmates in March, has closed an expanded seed round at $13 million. Uber participated in the round as a strategic investor, alongside Delivery Hero-backed DX Ventures, 7-Eleven’s corporate venture arm 7-Ventures and Wavemaker Partners’ food automation-focused venture studio Wavemaker Labs.
Solid Power, the solid-state battery developer backed by Ford and BMW, made its public market debut and enjoyed a spiking stock price in its first day of trading.
Uber is in talks with the management of its Middle East unit Careem to bring outside investors into the business, Reuters reported.
During a wide-ranging interview at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit, Tesla CEO Elon Musk came out swinging against the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and the nearly $2 trillion budget reconciliation bill, despite each containing provisions meant to bolster the adoption of electric vehicles.
Of the infrastructure bill, he said, “It might be better if this bill doesn’t pass.” And of the budget reconciliation bill, he said that Tesla doesn’t need its $7,500 tax credit provision. (Tesla vehicles currently don’t qualify for it, as the automaker has sold more than 200,000 EVs, but the new bill could remove this manufacturers’ cap.) “Honestly, I would just can this whole bill. Don’t pass it. That’s my recommendation.”
He did, however, acknowledge that the country’s airports and highways could be improved, and that we should figure out better ways of managing traffic, like building tunnels or double-decking freeways.
Despite the fact that both Tesla and SpaceX have benefited from public funds, he also took aim at the role of the government more generally, suggesting that the role of government should be akin to a referee of a game, “but not a player on the field.”
“The government should get out of the way and not impede progress.”
His comments, which were made from Tesla’s new factory in Austin, are not too surprising. Musk and President Joe Biden have not been the coziest of bedfellows. Musk has been extremely critical of an additional provision in Biden’s budget plan that would make union- and U.S.-made EVs eligible for an additional $4,500 tax credit. On October 31, he tweeted pithily that Biden was a “UAW [sock emoji] puppet.” A few months earlier, he noted it was “odd” that Tesla was not invited to an EV event at the White House, despite executives from GM, Ford and Stellantis all receiving invites.
The final notable part of the interview (notable for Policy Corner, at least) were his comments on “rules and regulations.” We have too many of them, he said, without an effective “garbage collection system” to remove them. “Government should be really trying hard to get rid of rules and regulations that perhaps had some merit at some point but don’t have merit currently.”
— Aria Alamalhodaei
Notable reads and other tidbits
Argo AI teamed up with advocacy group the League of American Cyclists to establish guidelines for how self-driving vehicles should identify and interact with cyclists. The goal is to set a standard for other AV companies in the industry to follow, particularly as the self-driving industry moves away from testing and toward commercialization and will become more commonplace in the coming years.
SAIC Mobility and Momenta have launched a robotaxi trial service in Shanghai. The company is testing and validating potential commercial applications with 20 vehicles, powered by Momenta’s autonomous driving technology.
Batteries and supply chain
General Motors announced two partnerships to lock in a domestic source of rare earth minerals, alloy and finished magnets for the electric motors it will use in its upcoming barrage of EVs, including the GMC Hummer EC, Cadillac Lyriq and Chevrolet Silverado EV, through a partnership with MP Materials and another separate deal with Vacuumschmelze (VAC) of Germany.
Toyota Motor will build its first battery factory in the U.S. in North Carolina. Toyota will invest $1.29 billion in the plant, which will be called Toyota Battery Manufacturing, North Carolina (TBMNC), with production anticipated to commence in 2025. That investment is part of a wider pledge to invest $3.4 billion in automotive batteries in the U.S. through 2030.
TuSimple released its safety framework around its “driver out” autonomous driving system. The company said its program is designed to show driver-out operations for Class 8 trucks on open roads.
Volkswagen has entered into three new partnerships related to electric vehicle batteries. The three separate partnerships, all of which were announced Wednesday, are with materials technology group Umicore, battery specialist 24M Technologies and Vulcan Energy Resources, a company that is planning to open a lithium brine project in Germany.
DoorDash is introducing “ultra-fast” deliveries in 10-15 minutes beginning with a single DashMart location in New York City. The company is additionally beginning to test a new model of employment which relies on full-time employees, not gig workers, to handle these new deliveries.
The U.K. High Court has ruled that Uber’s business model is unlawful. The decision, as Natasha Lomas reported, has huge ramifications for how ride-hailing platforms like Uber can operate in the U.K. capital and how much U.K. tax they will pay. The crux of the issue is the contract model Uber and many other ride-hailing platforms have been applying.
Ford plans to increase production of the all-electric Mustang Mach E next year with the goal of tripling its current capacity by 2023 to meet “incredible demand,” CEO Jim Farley said. This is the first time the automaker has provided a specific outlook for the Mustang Mach E. Ford is also delaying the start of production of battery-electric versions of the Explorer and Lincoln Aviator crossovers by about 18 months. The EV versions of the Explorer and Aviator were supposed to be assembled at its Cuautitlan, Mexico factory. That factory will now be used to increase production of the Mach E.
Lucid Group has been subpoenaed by securities regulators investigating the electric automaker’s merger that enabled it to become a publicly traded company. Lucid said in a regulatory filing that the Securities and Exchange Commission requested certain documents related to its investigation.
Stellantis laid out an ambitious plan to generate $22.5 billion annually from software in its vehicles that can sell passengers and drivers products and subscriptions. The target is in line with goals from its competitors — all of which are seeking ways to make revenue beyond selling, repairing and financing vehicles. The global automaker said it will invest more than $33.7 billion through 2025 into software and electrification. That investment will include employing 4,500 software engineers by 2024.
U.S. securities regulators have opened a probe into Tesla over allegations from a whistleblower that the company did not disclose to shareholders fire risks from its solar panel systems. The allegations were made by Steven Henkes, a former Tesla employee, who filed his complaint with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission back in 2019.
Volvo Cars is investigating a cybersecurity breach and theft of a limited amount of the company’s research and development data. The company said one of its file repositories had been illegally accessed by a third party.
Gareth Joyce will succeed Jack Allen as CEO of Proterra. The company announced a few other changes to the board, including that Allen will transition to non-executive chairman of the board, Ryan Popple will step down as the board’s director and ML Krakauer was appointed to the board. Meanwhile, Karina Franco Padilla has been appointed CFO.
Oxbotica, an open autonomous vehicle software developer, appointed Gavin Jackson as its new CEO.
Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess will keep his job, a decision that came after weeks of speculation about his future at the German automaker. VW Group’s supervisory board made the announcement during its annual update to the company’s five-year investment plan. The board also agreed to increase spending to €159 billion ($180 billion), from €150 billion last year.