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Welcome back to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.
Shall we jump right on in? Yes, let’s.
Before we get in too deep, I wanted to point out some interesting comments made by Ford CEO Jim Farley last week at the Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference.
Farley indicated that Ford would be restructuring its sales process, essentially building out an e-commerce platform and tacking it on to existing dealerships. He said it will be like Target’s strategy of leveraging its physical stores to compete with Amazon. In other words, the dealerships are not going away.
But you better believe their business will change.
Farley said he expects massive consolidation among dealers, suppliers and automakers as the industry begins building more EVs. In the future, dealers won’t hold any inventory, he added. Instead, the vehicles will ship directly to the customer, with remote pickup and delivery.
“Their business will change a lot,” Farley said. “There will be a lot of winners and losers, and I believe, consolidation.”
Alright, on to the rest of the news!
Audi is working with Spoke, a mobility platform for safety and connectivity, to reduce roadway accidents and fatalities involving cars and bikes by using cellular vehicle-to-everything tech, connecting cars and bicycles.
The eSkootr Championship and NEP, a live events broadcaster, decided to broadcast the races in a way that suits this mobile-first generation. Streaming for the inaugural season of this new sport will happen in 9:16 format, which means the racing action will fill the entirety of a vertical screen.
Gocycle, a premium e-bike maker, is redesigning the company’s retail model, which will effectively lower the price on its fourth-gen lineup, the G4. Previously, the e-bike was priced at $4,799 but has now dropped $800 to $3,999.
Superpedestrian and Helbiz are partnering with Populus to gather and analyze trip, crash and infrastructure data to give cities better planning tools to make micromobility travel safer.
Tier has started bringing the newest version of its scooter to Essex in the U.K., replacing the existing Spin fleet. This marks one of the company’s first replacement of Spin vehicles after Tier acquired the company from Ford, and it won’t be the last. Tier has said one of its main goals for the U.S. is to upgrade Spin’s fleet with Tier’s vehicles, which feature swappable batteries.
Voi is partnering with Lithium Battery Recycling Solutions to safely dispose of and recycle end-of-life batteries from its electric scooters and bikes.
Zoomo revealed its prototype of the Zoomo One, its high-performance utility e-bike, at Micromobility Europe in Amsterdam. The Zoomo One has moped-level performance and reaches speeds of 45 km per hour, and it’s built specifically for delivery.
Check out this interview with Horace Dediu in which the godfather of the term “micromobility” talks about:
- How mobility is a human right, and micromobility helps ensure that right.
- Why the micromobility industry needs a leader or a powerhouse brand, like Steve Jobs and Apple is to the iPhone, to really push the industry into the mainstream.
- The concept of “car unbundling” — or using different vehicles for different use cases, rather than always driving.
— Rebecca Bellan
A little bird
When Andrej Karpathy took a sabbatical from Tesla, where he was director of AI, the rumor and speculation mill ramped up declaring he would not return. There is some history to support this forecast: Several high-profile Tesla executives who have taken “leave” often ended up not returning.
But word on the street, with people in the know, is that it’s still up in the air. One interesting tidbit: Karpathy is considering some venture investing, according to one source familiar with the matter. The timing makes sense. Karpathy is on a four-month leave and returned to the Bay Area in May for a bit.
What area will he invest in? I don’t know, but one could surmise that it would be focused on the field of artificial intelligence.
Deal of the week
Rimac Group’s recent raise caught my eye — and not just because of the amount, which was €500 million ($536 million).
SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and Goldman Sachs led the round that has pushed Rimac’s valuation to €2 billion ($2.2 billion). The round also included an “eight-figure sum” from Porsche, which now owns 20% of the company.
Founder and CEO Mate Rimac will remain the largest shareholder of Rimac Group, the majority shareholder of the recently merged Bugatti Rimac and the sole shareholder of Rimac Technology.
Mate Rimac is one of the more strategic and transparent automotive leaders I’ve spoken to over the years. He didn’t disappoint during a media briefing with reporter Jaclyn Trop, at one point noting that the money will help Rimac stay independent from larger automakers.
“It’s very good for us to have Porsche and Hyundai onboard as shareholders, but we don’t want to be fully dependent on them,” he said.
Other deals that got my attention …
Bosch’s venture arm has launched a new $295 million fund to invest in startups with the “potential to improve quality of life and conserve natural resources.” TechCrunch’s Harri Weber reports that the German firm’s global focus on deep tech remains much the same. For Bosch VC, that nebulous category includes everything from autonomous vehicles to Internet of Things platforms.
Frontier Airlines offered Spirit Airlines a reverse breakup fee — to the tune of $250 million — if antitrust regulators don’t approve the merger of the two airlines.
Kolors, a Mexico city-based startup that says its intercity bus service is like “if Uber and Southwest Airlines had a baby,” raised $20 million. The Series A round was led by UP.Partners with participation from Toyota Ventures, Maniv Mobility, K5 Global and Mazapil, as well as existing investors. Kolors will use the funds to deepen its coverage in Mexico and parts of the U.S., as well as expand into other Latin American countries, likely starting with Chile.
Minus Zero, an India-based autonomous vehicle technology startup, raised a seed round of $1.7 million led by Chiratae Ventures.
Upway, the French startup that sells secondhand electric bikes, raised $25 million in a Series A round led by Exor Seeds and Sequoia Capital. Other backers include Global Founders Capital, Origins, the VC firm backed by many professional soccer players, and Henri Moissinac, the co-founder and CEO of micromobility startup Dott.
Wrench, a mobile vehicle services company, acquired YourMechanic, the Andreessen Horowitz and SoftBank-backed mobile vehicle repair services startup. The companies did not disclose the terms of the deal.
Notable reads and other tidbits
Cruise, GM’s autonomous vehicle subsidiary, finally received the permit it needed to begin operating a driverless commercial ride-hail service in San Francisco. The California Public Utilities Commission voted to approve the permit Thursday, making Cruise the only AV company getting paid for fully autonomous ride-hail in California. The win follows years of testing in the city, and it lays out the path for Cruise to continue scaling in the city and in other major American cities.
Embark is working with the Texas Department of Public Safety to train Embark-powered trucks to identify law enforcement vehicles in situations such as traffic stops and to develop communication protocols and standard operating procedures. Embark said it would demonstrate its emergency vehicle interaction capability later this summer.
Refraction AI plans to deploy a fleet of its self-driving vehicles to serve two Chick-fil-A restaurants in downtown Austin. The commercial pilot will begin in late June.
SafeAI is working with Siemens to create an autonomous, zero emission heavy vehicle fleet for Obayashi Corporation. Under the partnership, the companies will retrofit 300 construction trucks — ranging from 45-65 tons and operated by Obayashi Corporation — with autonomous driving tech. The collaboration will continue scaling across the entire fleet over a three-year period, the companies said.
Sensible 4, the Finnish autonomous driving technology company, announced it has opened an office in Tokyo. An autonomous shuttle bus called GACHA that was built by Sensible 4 and designed by the Japanese lifestyle retailer MUJI has started its first operations on public roads, the company said.
Zhejiang Geely Holding Group launched nine satellites into low Earth orbit as part of an effort to build out a satellite network to provide more accurate navigation for autonomous vehicles.
Electric vehicles & batteries
BloombergNEF released its latest annual Long-Term Electric Vehicle Outlook.
Buick revealed a sleek concept car that will set the direction on its journey to becoming a fully electric brand in North America by 2030. But that wasn’t the most surprising news — at least for the TechCrunch transportation desk. Buick, it seems, is opening the door to coupes and sedans. Sedans!
DeLorean released fresh details and images of its Alpha 5 EV, a gull-winged electric vehicle that the company’s owners hope will resurrect the long defunct brand and possibly set the direction for more electric models.
EV charging lounges could be key to driving more EV sales, Autoweek reports.
Ford said it will invest $3.7 billion and add more than 6,200 union manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri as part of the automaker’s plan to sell 2 million EVs a year globally by the end of 2026.
Polestar revealed a limited-edition of its Polestar 2 EV called the Polestar 2 “BST edition 270.” As its name suggests, only 270 of them will be made. The vehicle, which is based on an experimental Polestar 2 first shown at the 2021 Goodwood Festival of Speed, has 166 notable changes, including an upgraded chassis, racing-spec Öhlins BST-edition adjustable dampers with additional front reservoirs, a new front strut brace to add steering feedback and performance driving feel, updated wheels and tires and an optional center stripe.
Stellantis and LG Energy Solution have named their battery joint-venture company NextStar Energy Inc. Danies Lee has been appointed CEO of the new company that will be Canada’s first large-scale lithium-ion battery production plant.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk directed executives to pause all hiring and prepare for job cuts, according to two leaked emails. He clarified in one of the emails that the 10% cut in the workforce would be for salaried employees and that Tesla is increasing the number of hourly workers. However, over the weekend Musk seemed to back peddle on the salaried job cuts, tweeting “Total headcount will increase, but salaried should be fairly flat.”
Future of flight
South Korea, which lacks the venture capital, entrepreneurial ecosystem and aerospace legacy of the U.S., might be the first to lay the groundwork for taking urban air mobility (UAM) from an expensive science project into a viable service. Rebecca Bellan and Kate Park take a look at the unlikely players that have teamed up in South Korea (TechCrunch+ subscription required).
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is getting ready to release data that will give the public a detailed look at vehicle crashes that involved automated driving features, the WSJ reported, citing unnamed sources.
The agency last year directed companies to report serious crashes of vehicles that are equipped with an advanced driver assistance system that includes features that control acceleration, braking and steering, as well as automated driving technology found in autonomous vehicles. You might immediately think of how this might affect Tesla. There are dozens of other companies, including GM and its self-driving subsidiary Cruise, Waymo and Zoox.
Speaking of NHTSA, the agency has asked Tesla to respond to questions by June 20 after it received 758 reports of unexpected brake activation tied to the carmaker’s driver assistance system Autopilot.
VinGroup signed an MoU with Intel to create a range of advanced computing systems, including 5G enabled advanced driver assistance systems.
TechCrunch’s Kyle Wiggers digs into the delivery market and the outlook for startups.
Turo is expanding its peer-to-peer car-sharing service to New York State and France in June.
UP.Partners is building out its team. The VC fund focused on transportation promoted Ally Warson to partner and brought on Del.icio.us founder Joshua Schachter as a venture partner and Whipsaw co-founder Bob Riccomini as a design partner.