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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.
Before you dive into our weekly roundup of news and analysis, I wanted to flag two items. First up, the founders series returned this month with Anjali Jindal Naik, co-founder and COO of autonomous sidewalk robot maker Cartken.
Secondly, SXSW is coming up and I will be there IRL. Reach out if there’s a talk or presentation you believe I simply must see or a person I just have to meet. It’ll be a quick trip, but I am looking for any and all compelling transportation goings on. I am also moderating two panels: one is on sustainable mobility with folks from Arrival, Uber and autonomous vehicle consultant Selika Talbott. The other one, with Enel and Uber, is focused on EV charging infrastructure and the electrification of ride sharing, corporate fleets and service fleets.
Bah! wait, how could I forget … this is huge and finally we can have cars in the U.S. that don’t blind people! The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a final rule allowing automakers to install adaptive driving beam headlights, which automatically adjusts as you are driving, on new vehicles. These systems are already in Europe.
One of my favorite podcast and newsletter hosts, Azeem Azhar, dedicated a whole podcast to micromobility! On his latest show, Exponential View, where Azhar explores the impact of technology on business and society, he had on micromobility expert Horace Dediu. They talked about the role of software in driving the adoption of micromobility (a trend that some people questioned and even gave me a lot of flack for writing about a year ago), the integration of AR and micromobility and how big tech companies will integrate into micromobility.
There’s really no end to the companies trying to fuel the micromobility revolution, so catch up with just a few of them here.
Cogo is consolidating a less talked-about market in the micromobility world: shared mobility aggregating. The company just acquired another aggregator, eScoot, so that it can better offer comprehensive price comparisons for shared mobility. This helps users check the price, availability and travel time from multiple operators in one search. Funnily enough, this is something Dediu has said big tech companies, like Google, have an opportunity to capitalize on via Maps, so we’ll see how this kind of service unfolds in the long run.
Bird is extending its permits and increasing its fleet size in a few markets. It’ll be sticking around a little while longer in Long Beach, Portland and Decatur, and adding more vehicles to Durham, Isla Vista and Arlington.
Mundimoto, an online motorcycle buying and selling startup, raised $22.6 million to expand its platform outside of Spain and into the rest of Europe.
Lyft is starting to double down on its bikeshare business, per its Q4 2021 earnings. This supports comments that Tony Ho of Segway made to TechCrunch last year when he forecast that some of the “big rideshare guys” would be “coming back to play.”
Lightning Motorcycles is designing an electric two-wheeler that has a top speed of 250 mph (!!!). It’ll need a special metal called niobium that is found on rocket ships.
— Rebecca Bellan
Deal of the week
This isn’t a deal, so much as a rumored one. Still, it’s worth noting because of the implications.
German media reported that Volkswagen is in talks with Huawei to acquire the latter’s nascent autonomous driving unit for billions of euros. Huawei said it had no immediate comment when contacted by TechCrunch. VW China said it has no comment.
As TC reporter Rita Liao notes, the potential merger will be a powerful one. Huawei’s autonomous unit sits under the telecom equipment and smartphone behemoth’s “smart vehicle solution” business unit, which started only in 2019. The founding of the smart car BU spurred much speculation over whether Huawei would develop its own cars, though the firm has repeatedly denied any manufacturing plans and said it instead wants to be the “Bosch of China”, or a components supplier for car brands.
Other deals that got my attention this week …
Carbar, the Australian car subscription company, raised $28.9 million in a round led by Insurance Australia Group and Seven West Media.
CelLink, a California startup that developed a way to replace traditional wiring harnesses in vehicles, raised $250 million in a funding round backed by several strategic investors, including BMW iVentures, Lear Corp., Robert Bosch Venture Capital and 3M. Previous investor Ford Motor did not join the latest round.
Cepton, a lidar company that went public via a merger with SPAC partner Growth Capital Acquisition Corp, held its opening bell ringing ceremony at Nasdaq on February 17.
Haul, a company that developed software to connect CDL drivers to trucking companies with assignments, announced it raised $10 million in a round led by B Capital Group. Other investors included previous funders, Hack VC, Next Coast Ventures, Pipeline Capital Partners, RPM Ventures, Value Chain Ventures, as well as new participants, Bam Elevate, FJ Labs, WTI and angel investor Will Redd (cofounder of ZipRecruiter).
Ibex Investors has a new $113 million fund focused on early-stage mobility companies. The firm, which is based in Denver with offices in New York and Tel Aviv, has already tapped into the fund to invest in Aifleet and Visionary.ai.
Liefergrün, a German-based startup that offers emissions-free last-mile delivery services, raised €3 million in a seed funding round led by SpeedInvest and with participation from Norrsken VC.
Motorq, a connected car API startup, said it raised $40 million in a Series B funding round led by Insight Partners. Existing investors also joined including Story Ventures, FM Capital, Monta Vista Capital and Avanta Ventures.
Parallel Systems, an autonomous electric rail company, received $4.5 million in grant money from the Department of Energy as part of its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy initiative.
RideCo, a Canadian company offering cities on-demand transit tech, closed a $15.8 million (CAD $20 million) Series A round. RideCo’s funding round, which was led by Eclipse Ventures, represents the first time the company has raised institutional investment in the seven years since its founding.
Notable news and other tidbits
Argo AI is launching a new engineering and development office in Los Angeles where researchers will engage in R&D to advance its self-driving tech. Argo is bringing on Caltech professor Yisong Yue as principal scientist, who bring an expertise in ML and a connection to the university. Argo’s new office is close by Caltech, which will allow Argo to tap into that university-to-startup pipeline.
Aurora announced in a blog post that it is partnering with USXpress “to design optimal deployment strategies for autonomous technology in its commercial operations.” Think of this as a data exchange mission to find the lanes that would most benefit from early deployment of Aurora’s self-driving trucking technology.
Separately, Aurora reported its first earnings (Q4 and full year) as a publicly traded company. There weren’t too many surprises for a company that is still developing its technology and therefore pre-revenue. It’s R&D spend caught my eye though. Whooo weee! Aurora reported it spent $697.3 million on research and development in 2021, compared to $179.4 million in 2020. Aurora has $1.6 billion in cash on hand.
Baidu is launching its autonomous ride-hailing service, Apollo Go, in yet another city. Shenzhen will be the company’s seventh city where it’s introduced robotaxi services, starting with the Nanshan District, which is home to companies like Huawei and Tencent, as well as many tourist attractions. The company will be deploying Apollo’s 4th gen vehicle, the Hongqi EV, and has promised to bring its 5th gen robotaxi onto the fleet soon. Users will be able to hail a robotaxi via the Apollo Go app at one of 50 stations from 9am to 5pm. Baidu hopes to expand to more than 300 stations by the end of the year.
Important to note: This is still a trial operation. Baidu has gone commercial in Beijing and will be bringing a commercial service to Cangzhou in March. The Shenzhen service will also involve “drivered” autonomous vehicles (human safety operator is still behind the wheel) while Baidu seeks permission to test driverless in the city.
Cruise plans to expand the self-driving delivery pilot it has with Walmart in Arizona to eight stores. Today, that pilot involves just one Walmart store located on Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community lands near Scottsdale.
Starship Technologies launched an on-demand delivery service in Pleasanton, California, which is in the Bay Area. This is an expansion of its existing partnership deploying autonomous sidewalk robots for The Save Mart companies, which began in 2020.
Waymo’s autonomous trucking and cargo division Waymo Via and freight logistics company C.H. Robinson are gearing up to launch a pilot. The companies said within the coming months Waymo’s test fleet will be delivering freight in Texas for one of C.H. Robinson’s customers. The pilot is part of a larger partnership between the two companies that aims to combine Waymo’s AV technology, which is available to any carrier, with C.H. Robinson’s logistics data on over 3 million trucking lanes and access to a network of nearly 200,000 shippers and carriers, many of which are medium and small carriers that Waymo is interested in reaching.
Remember all of those electric vehicle ads that aired during the Super Bowl? Apparently, Cars.com saw an 80% increase in EV page views after all that marketing. TechCrunch reporter Rebecca Bellan tells me she loved this ad from General Motors, featuring Dr. Evil and crew from the Austin Powers movies, in part because it went nicely with the throwbacks from the halftime show.
Putting aside my Gen Xer reaction to the word “throwbacks” (we’ll talk later, Rebecca) I was struck by how many of the EVs in these ads are not yet on sale. When all those people turned to the internet to find these EVs were they disappointed? Or excited for what was to come?
Delorean is coming back as an EV! Or at least that’s the intention of some Texas executives who are working with Stephen Wynne, Bloomberg reported. Wynne owns the DeLorean branding rights and supplies parts for the 6,000 or so remaining vehicles. DeLorean Motor Company ReImagined LLC tweeted out a video that teases the upcoming EV; no word on timing.
Fisker confirmed in an earnings call that it’s still on track to start production of the Ocean SUV in November, with reservations for its first electric vehicle jumping to 31,000. Interestingly, there are 1,600 fleet reservations for the Ocean, including an incremental 200-unit order from software company ServiceNow.
Redwood Materials, the startup founded by former Tesla CTO JB Straubel, is launching an electric vehicle battery recycling program in California with Ford and Volvo as inaugural partners as pressure mounts to source materials for EVs. The two automakers will cover some of the cost of retrieving, properly packaging and then transporting the batteries back to Redwood’s recycling facility in northern Nevada.
The program will be free for those turning in vehicle batteries. Redwood says it will accept all lithium-ion and nickel metal hydride batteries in the state, regardless of the make or model of the vehicle.
Tesla said non-Tesla owners can charge their electric vehicles at all Supercharger stations in the Netherlands, marking an expansion of a pilot program that kicked off in November 2021 with 10 stations.
Speaking of Tesla, the company fell seven spots to No. 23 out of 32 brands in Consumer Reports’ annual auto brand rankings. And not to pile on, but … federal safety regulators opened an investigation into Tesla after receiving hundreds of reports alleging “phantom braking.” The investigation covers an estimated 416,000 Tesla Model 3 and Model Y vehicles from the 2021-22 model years.
Volta is expanding its collaboration with Walgreens and will install 1,000 DC fast charging stalls at over stores throughout the U.S.
Future of flight
AirAsia signed a non-binding MoU with Avolon, an aircraft leasing company, to lease a minimum of 100 eVTOLs that were built by Vertical Aerospace.
AutoFlight, a Chinese eVTOL company, completed the proof-of-concept, transition test flight for its air taxi Prosperity I, in which the aircraft switches from a vertical take-off motion to horizontal flight and back to vertical flight before landing — an important milestone for an eVTOL startup trying to make it in the business.
Joby Aviation is partnering with Japanese airline ANA to bring aerial ridesharing services to Japan. Toyota Motor Corporation will be partnering with the two companies, as well, in order to explore ways to connect the air taxis to ground-based transportation. In other Joby news, the company reported one of its test vehicles crashed. NTSB is investigating.
Gig economy and delivery
Doordash is launching express grocery delivery, which brings customer groceries in under 30 minutes, in partnership with Albertsons, which owns stores like Safeway, Vons, Tom Thumb, ACME Markets and more.
Nvidia keeps scoring those automaker partnerships. This time, it is Jaguar Land Rover. The automaker said it will use Nvidia’s end-to-end Drive Hyperion platform in all of its vehicles starting in 2025. This platform will be used to power features like advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous driving.
Caribou, the auto fintech startup formerly called MotoRefi, has hired or promoted 10 new executives. The company promoted former COO and Uber alum Eric Stradley to the role of president, appointed Jason Tepperman as chief lending officer, hired Arlene Dzurnak as the company’s chief compliance officer and named Jennifer Khazai chief accounting officer.
P.J. O’Rourke, the satirist and bestselling author who also wrote for Car and Driver, died February 15. Car and Driver has a nice send off piece featuring some of his work for the magazine.
Steve Taub left In-Q-Tel, where he was partner, and is now managing director of investments at JetBlue Technology Ventures.
Virgin Galactic announced that Chairman Chamath Palihapitiya, whose SPAC took the company public in 2019, is stepping down from the space-tourism company’s board of directors, effective immediately, CNBC reported.