Transportation

The Station: EVs abound at Monterey Car Week and Tesla amateur testing spreads to include kids

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Acura EV Concept Monterey Car Week
Image Credits: Roberto Baldwiin

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.

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. 

It’s Monterey Car Week! And that means lots of luxury vehicles, hypercars and even some EV startups at the annual event in California. Reporter Jaclyn Trop and contributor Roberto Baldwin were on the ground talking to executives, designers and founders about the vehicles they showcased and what is coming in the future.

The big takeaway (aside from the complete lack of WiFi at Quail): EVs were everywhere and the well-heeled were packing booths of EV makers like Lucid Group.

Here is some of our coverage so far: (with more on the way!)

One more note. Our transportation founder Q&A series is still going strong over at TC+ and this week, Rebecca Bellan checked back in (a year after the first interview) with Zūm founder Ritu Narayan.

You can always email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. You also can send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Let’s start off with a sardonic giggle. Have a geez at this excellent, and hilarious, read of what it’s like riding a bike in an American city

Now, during my voyage down this strip of pavement that’s about as wide as a paper towel roll and surrounded by large vehicles driven by people who hate me for no reason, I will face many perils. I will face the towering metal rear ends of illegally parked postal trucks. I will face hundreds—nay—thousands of glass shards from shattered Miller Lite bottles. I will face potholes deep enough to turn me and my bike into something out of Picasso’s Guernica. And you will witness me conquer them all in a glorious spectacle of labored breathing and back sweat!

OK, back to the news …

Bolt (the EU one, not the disappearing Bolt Mobility) says it has quadrupled its business globally since the start of the pandemic. It operates in 45 countries and more than 500 cities, an increase of more than 200% since before the pandemic. The company is also hiring. It has more than 350 open roles and plans to hire 700 more employees by the end of the year. Bolt also said it will invest another €150 million to expand micromobility across Europe. 

Horace Dediu has a new essay on the dominance of short trips versus long trips and what that says about the potential market for micromobility options. 

The Inflation Reduction Act might have left out incentives for e-bikes in the U.S., but France didn’t. The country is introducing a new €5 million grant scheme for people purchasing e-bikes or e-cargo bikes. Those who scap an old car to switch to an e-bike get a bonus of €3,000.

Los Angeles, still a famously unfriendly city to bikes, is introducing a 2024 voter initiative that will fast-track the city’s ambitious traffic plan to bring in hundreds of miles of more walkable and bikeable streets by implementing changes every time the roads are repaved. The City Council will possibly adopt the policy outright or send it to voters. 

Spin is working with Carnegie Mellon University and the City of Pittsburgh to launch a study that will give up to 50 low-income residents in the city free access to shared mobility and public transit services to study the effects on socioeconomic progress. The one-year research project will study the potential to improve people’s economic, health and social outcomes by giving them easier access to jobs, education, healthcare, social services and recreational activities. 

Apparently people like to get lit up and ride scooters, at least in Oslo, where Tier ran a study of e-scooter injuries and found four out of 10 involved intoxicated riders! So, like other micromobility companies, Tier is introducing a drunk test to some cities. The test asks them to match the angle of their phone with an angle displayed on a screen — this little practice of hand-eye coordination will be done three times within a set time frame, and if a rider fails, they will be asked to call a cab, ya lush! 

— Rebecca Bellan

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

We hear and see things — and we like to share them with you!

Here’s a small “little bird” item for this week. BMW no longer has a permit to test autonomous vehicles in the state of California.

One of my eagle-eyed co-workers spotted the change. I asked the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency that regulates AVs in the state. A spokesperson confirmed the removal and added that it was BMW that pulled its own permit.

Deal of the week

money the station

This week, let’s turn our attention to China and robotaxis.

SAIC Mobility, an arm of state-owned Chinese automaker SAIC that aims to launch a commercial robotaxi service, raised $148 million (RMB 1 billion). While that might not be the same level as some of the eye-popping external raises of U.S. robotaxi companies Cruise and Waymo, it is notable.

According to the company, the funds will be used to scale its robotaxi service in China, which it will operate in partnership with autonomous vehicle company Momenta.

SAIC Group led the Series B round that also saw participation from Momenta, Gaoheng Management Consulting and other institutions. The funding brought SAIC Mobility’s total valuation to more than $1 billion.

Other deals that got my attention …

Aero Technologies, an air travel company, raised $65 million — $50 million in capital and $15 million in convertible notes — in a Series B round that pushed its post-money valuation to $300 million. The funding round was co-led by investment firm Albacore Capital Group, returning investors Expa and Keyframe Capital and new participation from Capital One Ventures.

Aero raises $65M for its semi-private airline

American Airlines said it will buy up to 20 jets from Boom Supersonic, an aircraft maker that aims to commercialize supersonic, and super-fast, flight.

AtoB, the fintech payments platform focused on trucking, raised $155 million in equity and debt in a Series B round led by Elad Gil and General Catalyst. Collaborative Fund, Contrary Capital, XYZ Venture Capital and Leadout Capital also participated.

Exponent Energy, the Bangalore-based startup developing a rapid EV charger, raised $13 million in a Series A round.

Graphex Group, the maker of graphene products for lithium-ion batteries in China, raised $12 million by offering 4.7 million ADSs (American depository shares) at $2.50. The company uplisted those shares to the New York Stock Exchange.

Just Eat Takeaway agreed to sell its stake in Brazil’s iFood to Prosus for up to 1.8 billion euros ($1.8 billion).

Walmart is acquiring Delivery Drivers Inc. for an undisclosed amount. Delivery Drivers is the gig-labor management company that has been a partner in Walmart’s Spark Driver platform.

Notable news and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Motional, the Aptiv-Hyundai joint venture that’s working to commercialize autonomous driving technology, launched its IONIQ 5-based robotaxi for driverless ride-hail operations on the Lyft network in Las Vegas.

ADAS and other in-car tech

Tesla collects mammoth amounts of data. The NYT goes deep into one crash involving a Tesla with Autopilot activated and attempts to answer the question: Can Tesla data help us understand car crashes?

Tesla is also coming under fire from federal and state regulators over both the safety and the capabilities of its Autopilot advanced driver assistance system.

And speaking of Tesla, remember when I briefly wrote about Whole Mars Catalog, YouTube and Twitter accounts run by Omar Qazi, a shareholder and major booster of Tesla, who suggested using real children to test whether the vehicle’s latest driver assistance system would automatically avoid colliding with pedestrians? The idea came in response to a national advertising campaign from software company founder Dan O’Dowd who criticizes Tesla’s driver assistance features. Tesla fans have used blow-up dolls and mannequins as a rebuttal. And now, they’re using their own kids. Cool cool.

Yep, you read this correctly: People are actually conducting amateur tests with their children. In one case, YouTube took down a video posted on the Whole Mars Catalog channel that shows one Tesla owner using their kid in an amateur safety test, CNBC’s Lora Kolodny reported.

Earnings

Bird missed Q2 revenue estimates slightly, bringing in $76.7 million for the quarter and a net loss of $310.4 million. Bird’s total number of rides doubled QoQ, but because the shared scooter company has put so many more vehicles on the road, the actual number of rides per vehicle dropped nearly 20%. Bird also suffered a decrease in average ride fare YoY. None of this is particularly attractive for investors, especially after Bird dropped its retail unit and laid off a bunch of workers. But the company is optimistic that it will realize savings from restructuring by Q3. 

Faraday Future, maker of the long-delayed FF91 EV, reported operating losses more than quadrupled in the second quarter. The company said it plans to raise funds; and it better, as it only had $121 million left at the quarter ended June 30.

Gogoro posted revenue of $90.7 million, up 5.3% YoY, and a net loss of $121.1 million, up from $20.6 million in the second quarter. The battery swap company has faced some challenges, including a resurgence of COVID-19 in Asia, lockdowns in China and a surging U.S. dollar, which has impacted revenue and which Gogoro expects will continue to have outsize effects on guidance for the second half of the year.

Helbiz generated $4.4 million in revenue in the second quarter, mostly from shared micromobility rides. However, some of that revenue came from Helbiz’s weird Italian soccer streaming service. That’s on top of a net loss of nearly $20 million. Helbiz has about $2.5 million in cash left.

Electric vehicles & batteries

Dodge revealed an EV concept very close to an upcoming production model that looks and sounds like the gas-powered Charger muscle car that will be discontinued next year.

J.D. Power released a survey that found while public charging stations are a tad easier to come by these days, faulty chargers are souring the experience and hampering EV adoption.

National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration estimates that 9,560 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the first quarter, about 7% more than the same-period last year. This is the highest number of first-quarter fatalities since 2002.

Ola, the Indian ridehailing firm, said it plans to start producing electric cars by 2024

Polestar said it will launch an EV roadster in 2026. Will Tesla bring its roadster to market first?

President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law and there is a complicated section that deals with EV tax credits. Among the requirements is that an EV need to have final assembly in North America to qualify.

Revel launched a small-scale vehicle-to-grid (V2G) at a warehouse in Brooklyn. So far, the startup is only powering three Nissan Leafs. However, the program is a chance for Revel to prove out a fleet-based use case for bidirectional chargers, which both charge EVs and discharge them to send energy stored in their batteries back to Con Edison’s NYC grid.

Rivian is discontinuing Explore, the cheapest trim level of its all-electric truck and SUV, due to low customer demand.

TechCrunch’s Jaclyn Trop writes about how battery investment is moving onshore to kickstart U.S. EV production (TC+ subscription required).

Miscellaneous

DoorDash is ending its partnership with Walmart after more than four years of delivering the retail giant’s products to customers.

A heatwave in some parts of China prompted local governments to halt industrial power use. That led to splashy headlines in the West like “China heat wave shuts Tesla suppliers.” TechCrunch’s Rita Liao explains what is really going on.

Porsche plans to build and operate a solar power microgrid at its U.S. headquarters in Atlanta, an action it says will reduce its annual carbon emissions by 3.2 million pounds.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI) and Northwestern University have launched a  nanomaterial “data factory” that will accelerate new materials discovery. The first application of the data factory will be used to discover new catalysts to make fuel cell vehicles more efficient. TRI and Northwestern believe this method of materials discovery will have wide-ranging applications, including clean hydrogen production, CO2 removal from air and high-efficiency solar cells.

Uber is shutting down its free loyalty program, Uber Rewards, so it can focus on its subscription-based Uber One membership.

People

Autoliv appointed Gustav Lundgren to the board, replacing Min Liu who resigned.

General Motors appointed Tapestry CEO Joanne Crevoiserat to its board of directors.

Volvo Group Deputy CEO Jan Gurander will step down from the position December 31, 2022.

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