The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.
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.
Your usual host, Kirsten Korosec, is out, so I’ll be taking over this week. Let’s get to it.
First thing’s first. Russia invaded Ukraine last week, which, in addition to being a human rights tragedy, is going to affect industries far and wide as supply chains become even further disrupted than they were before war broke out. We’re keeping a tally of all the automakers pulling out their operations from the region or halting vehicle exports to Russia. Stay informed and follow the latest.
Second — TC Sessions: Mobility is back this year, in person no less! The event is taking place in San Mateo on May 18-19, so join the mobility community’s greatest visionaries, founders, builders and investors to connect and go deep. For example, this year, we’ll have Jiajun Zhu, co-founder of Nuro, to explain how he drove the AV company to a $8.6 billion valuation.
You can buy your pass or Early-Stage Startup Demo Package at the early-bird price and save $300 and $200, respectively. Your pass will also include access to our full day of virtual content on May 20.
Third — Check out the latest transportation founder interview on TechCrunch+. This week, I talked to Raquel Urtasun, former chief scientist at Uber ATG and now founder and CEO of Waabi, an autonomous vehicle technology company that has possibly figured out the complicated AI behind bringing self-driving trucks to market much faster than the competition.
As always, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips.
Deal of the week
The biggest deal this week had to have been German micromobility operator Tier’s acquisition of Spin from Ford. While the two companies didn’t share the terms of the deal, Ford originally bought Spin in 2018 for $100 million, and Tier recently raised a $200 million round that it said it would use for acquisitions, among other things, so a ballpark guess would put the number somewhere in between?
Regardless, this deal not only gives Tier the highest city count of any micromobility operator, but it also gives Tier access to the U.S. market.
As consolidation begins its next wave in the micromobility industry, might we see more deals like this, where companies just buy other companies for geographic expansion, rather than trying to kickstart their own operations in new locales? Probably. It makes sense, in a lot of ways, to use existing infrastructure rather than have to build it all up from scratch. And Tier has already done this recently with Wind Mobility’s Italian division, as well as Nextbike, which gave Tier a rather large fleet of shared e-bikes to work with. We’ll see how it goes.
Tier wouldn’t share its latest valuation, but it’s likely to be above the $2 billion figure it announced after its last raise.
Other deals that got my attention…
Autonomous trucking startup Inceptio Technology raised a $188 million round led by Sequoia Capital China and Legend Capital.
GreenPower Motor Company and Workhorse have signed a multi-year supply agreement to facilitate the manufacturing and delivery of medium-duty Class 4 electric vans into the North American market, starting in the third quarter of 2022 and throughout 2023.
Automotive mobility group Astara is investing $5 million in GoTo Global’s pre-IPO round. This comes in addition to the $6 million invested in GoTo’s existing shareholders.
Fetch, a self-service truck rental marketplace, has raised $3.5 million to expand its team and operations.
Notable news and other tidbits
Tesla needs a Tim Cook
This week, Roberto Baldwin wrote about why Tesla needs a Tim Cook, and the article is worth its own shoutout. Baldwin argues that larger-than-life personalities get seriously disruptive companies, like Tesla or Apple, off the ground and sometimes even into the stratosphere. But when the honeymoon period ends and the business becomes about, well, running a business, the egos that made the company great could very well also dismantle it. Hence the need for a steady captain at the helm. Baldwin writes:
Right now, there is no heir apparent within the Tesla hierarchy. No one is poised to take over if CEO (and Technoking of Tesla) Elon Musk decides to call it quits and focus on some of his other companies or his music career. Tesla is Musk. His hands are in everything.
He dismantled the PR department and is disseminating company news via Twitter. Adding the Falcon Wing doors to the Model X was his last-minute idea. He was adamant that the company could build a car factory that was almost entirely automated. He also implemented the ability to pay with cryptocurrency, then took the option away, and then reintroduced it for Tesla vehicles and services.
Musk admits that he drives most new programs at the company, “not because I want to, but because I have to.” That deep level of involvement early on in a company’s history is helpful. But if the future of the company relies on building quality products, one person ruling over everything can be disastrous.
Autonomous trucking startup TuSimple switched things up at the executive table. This week, co-founder and CTO Xiaodi Hou succeeded Cheng Lu as president and CEO and succeed Mo Chen as chairman of the board. Apparently it’s all part of a planned succession as the company moves to the next phase of commercializing L4 autonomous trucking tech.
In more executive news, Cruise co-founder Kyle Vogt has retaken his spot as CEO of the company following the unexpected departure of Dan Ammann, who was ousted in December.
Waymo has scored a permit with the California Public Utilities Commission that will allow it to charge riders for drivered (meaning a safety operator is still present) robotaxi rides in San Francisco.
Argo AI has confirmed that it is test driving autonomous vehicles in Nashville — but they’re not driving them in AV mode just yet. For the moment, they’re driving them around for mapping purposes, but mapping is a key step on the way to actual autonomous testing.
In China, 60% of journey-miles may be autonomous by 2040, according to a recent report by McKinsey & Co. However, China’s AV companies are dependent on chips designed mainly by U.S. companies, like Nvidia, Qualcomm and Intel.
Rivian angered customers by hiking the price of its electric R1T pickup truck from $67,500 to about $79,000 and R1S SUV from $70,000 to $84,000. The EV company blamed inflation, the increased cost of raw materials and parts and the prolonged chip shortage. Then it sort of walked back on it. CEO RJ Scaringe issued a statement modifying the planned price increase, promising customers who placed their pre-order for either vehicle prior to March 1 that their original price will be honored, and offering to restore any pre-orders from customers who cancelled as a result of the planned change.
Stellantis rolled out a new plan that would see it double its revenue by 2030 while maintaining high profit margins as it starts electrifying its car models. The automaker also revealed its first fully electric version of a Jeep SUV.
Ford is increasing its electric vehicle investment to $50 billion through 2026, up from $30 billion by 2025. The company also announced a restructuring that would see its EV unit run as a separate business than its internal combustion engine unit. The former will henceforth be named Ford Model e, and the latter Ford Blue.
Polestar unveiled its latest EV idea: the Polestar O2 convertible concept, a four-door sports car with an integrated drone so drivers can film themselves for the ‘gram.
Tesla has tapped Panasonic to start mass production of a higher-capacity battery by March 2024. Panasonic is reportedly looking to purchase land in either Oklahoma or Kansas to supply Tesla, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Meanwhile in Germany, Tesla has received a conditional go-ahead for its gigafactory outside Berlin which was initially meant to open last summer. Before it begins production, however, the automaker must prove it fulfils certain conditions, including in water use and air pollution control.
Lucid Motors held its 2021 Q4 and full-year earnings call, which revealed the company is still battling to get its Lucid Air to production. The new 2022 guidance promised a range of 12,000 to 14,000 units produced, which is down from the 20,000 the company had previously promised. Reservations continue to climb, though, with a total of 25,000 to date.
Arcimoto is launching a last-mile delivery pilot program with Directed Technologies in Australia to introduce its ultra-efficient Fun Utility Vehicle and Deliverator vehicles.
Hyundai Motor Company is planning to invest about $79.21 billion through 2030, which includes a $16.1 billion investment toward electric vehicle-related businesses.
Struggling EV company Lordstown Motors lost General Motors as an investor when the auto giant pulled its 5% stake in the company, which equates to roughly $75 million. The news followed an unimpressive earnings call for Lordstown.
Volvo is testing wireless EV charging with a small fleet of electric Volvo XC40 Recharge cars that will be used as taxis in Sweden as part of a three-year pilot.
Sony and Honda have signed a memorandum of understanding to explore their intent to build a joint venture focused on the development and sales of new electric vehicles, as well as a new “mobility service platform.”
German chemicals company BASF has secured land in Canada planned for a battery materials facility.
Uber intends to appeal a recent Ontario Ministry of Labour decision that found a Toronto courier was an employee, not an independent contractor, and therefore should be paid back wages that were deducted without notice last August, as well as wages to make up for missing public holiday pay and minimum wage discrepancies.
This comes just a few days after Ontario introduced legislation to establish a minimum wage and other rights for gig economy workers, such as protection against dismissal from a digital platform without proper notice or explanation.
Tortoise, a startup that began in 2019 with a mission to rebalance scooters for shared operators like Spin and shifted last year to robotic last-mile sidewalk delivery, is pivoting yet again in a new direction: mobile smart stores. The startup plans to launch 30 smart stores with SMBs that will function like fancy vending machines and allow businesses to grow their top line revenue easily, with Tortoise taking a 10% cut of gross sales.
Uber has launched a feature in select markets that allows customers to browse and book experiences like dinner reservations or live events through the app, and then be ferried there via the ride-hail service. The aim is to get people riding out more, similar to how Michelin Tires created its restaurant guidebook to incentivize potential car owners to hit the road.
TC Sessions: Mobility