Transportation

Rivian’s big bet, Waymo goes driverless in Austin and the Chevy Blazer EV returns

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Rivian R3 CEO RJ Scaringe
Image Credits: Kirsten Korosec

TechCrunch Mobility is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click TechCrunch Mobility — to receive the newsletter every weekend in your inbox. Subscribe for free.

Welcome back to TechCrunch Mobility — your central hub for news and insights on the future of transportation.

This week, it was all about Rivian and its splashy reveal of not one, but three future EVs. I attended the event to see the vehicles up close. Perhaps, more importantly, I also went to talk to executives, investors and customers to get a better understanding of where Rivian is headed and how folks are feeling about this EV upstart that is still far from turning a profit. I even ran into former Waymo CEO and now Rivian board member John Krafcik who was in attendance and cast a positive tone about the company’s future.

I also interviewed founder and CEO RJ Scaringe after the event. Much of our conversation centered around the R2 and a big and hopefully fruitful bet to shift production to its existing factory in Normal, Illinois instead of a yet-to-be-built plant in Georgia. Stay tuned in the next day or so for a complete rundown of the interview. I will give you one teaser: relevancy was a theme.

Check out our coverage of the R2 reveal, the surprise R3 and R3x, how reservations are going and a fun cinematic feature found in one of the many R2 “adventure” accessories.

This week’s news also includes articles about GM resuming sales of Chevrolet Blazer, a financial update from Turo, another EV reveal that showed a little muscle and more!


One more thing … I’ll be in Austin for SXSW this coming week.

I am moderating two panels, and I hope to see your smiling faces in the audience. The first panel, at 4 p.m. March 12, is entitled How Sustainable Mobility is Transforming the Last-Mile of Delivery and will feature Shawn Xu of Lowercarbon Capital, Anjali Naik of Cartken and Abby Wheeler of Uber.

The following day, and also at 4 p.m., I will moderate a panel called Mobility at the Speed of Trust: AV Purpose, Policy, and Performance with Darran Anderson, who is director of strategy and innovation at Texas DOT, Jay Blazek Crossley of Farm&City and Katrin Lohmann, who is president of Volkswagen ADMT.

Please say hi if you’re in town!

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

No little birds this week — at least ones that provided verifiable information I could share. Y’all have shared lots of spicy rumors though! Please keep reaching out; no tip is too small.

What I can share is an overview of the conversations I overheard at the Rivian R2 reveal, which was held March 7 at the South Coast Theater in Laguna Beach, California. (Rivian bought and restored the theater last year).

Among staff, from the lowly to the higher ups, there was a mix of excitement and relief once the event was over. The mood was positive, but some employees were clearly still processing the layoffs that occurred recently. I heard from a few folks that upper execs had underestimated the buzz around the R3 and R3X — the two surprise reveals. Importantly, the R3 and R3x vehicles don’t have a production date. (At least not a public one.)

The guests I spoke to or overheard talking — a combination of media, loyal customers and investors — were overwhelming positive about what they saw. There were a few grumbles about the location of the charging port and I heard more than a few wonder if Rivian could hold on financially through 2026, when the company is expected to begin production of the R2.

Got a tip for us? Email Kirsten Korosec at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com or Sean O’Kane sean.okane@techcrunch.com. If you prefer to remain anonymousclick here to contact us, which includes SecureDrop (instructions here) and various encrypted messaging apps.

Deal of the week

money the station

Will Turo ever IPO? Fellow TechCrunch reporter Alex Wilhelm and I have a running joke about the company’s long-delayed IPO; the company first filed an S-1 to go public in early 2022, and continues to update the document quarterly in preparation for an eventual offering. Alas, the venture-backed, peer-to-peer car rental service updated the S-1 once again with its fourth-quarter and full-year financial performance.

That suggests, as Wilhelm notes, that a public offering is still a key priority for Turo. Why else bother with the added paperwork?

While this isn’t a deal, per se, I do think it’s worth highlighting how the company is faring, per its latest financial reporting.

Turo saw an 18% uptick in year-over-year revenue to $879.8 million. That seems like good news until you look at Turo’s growth rate, which has dramatically declined in the last two years. Revenue growth did perk up a bit in Q4 2023 compared to the same quarter the previous year, a data point that could help it argue to public-market investors that its deceleration is not necessarily irreversible, Wilhelm wrote.

Also, Turo is actually profitable, which is no small thing. Gross margins did devolve from 54.3% in 2022 to 51.4% in 2023 and the company posted its smallest operating profit since 2020 last year. However, Turo is still in the black and that has me betting that an IPO is coming in 2024.

Other deals that got my attention …

REE, an automotive technology company and makes full by-wire electric trucks and platforms, closed its public offering of 2.3 million Class A ordinary shares, raising about $14.95 million. Multiple investors participated in the round, led by M&G Investment Management, REE’s largest shareholder.

Serve Robotics, an autonomous sidewalk delivery company, qualified to trade on the OTCQB Venture Market operated by the OTC Markets Group Inc. The company’s common shares are now trading on the OTCQB under the ticker symbol “SBOT.”

Notable reads and other tidbits

Apps

Uber Eats has added a live location-sharing capability to help couriers find customers in difficult-to-find locations, including public places such as campus courtyards, parks and playgrounds.

Waze launched a few new features to help users navigate tricky roundabouts, get alerts when a speed limit is about to change and get warnings about speed bumps and sharp curves. Question for readers: Am I the only one surprised that Google hasn’t killed off Waze?

Autonomous vehicles

Baidu’s autonomous ride hailing platform Apollo Go is now offering 24/7 autonomous driving rides in selected areas of Wuhan, China. This is the third major operational expansion of Baidu’s robotaxi service in 2024. The company was recently approved for robotaxi pilot operation on highways to Beijing Daxing Airport.

Waymo said it will start letting its autonomous vehicles traverse Austin without a safety operator behind the wheel, a crucial step before the company opens the program up to the public. The announcement comes less than a week after the Alphabet-owned company received a critical permit that allows it to charge for robotaxi rides in Los Angeles, San Francisco highways and the greater SF Peninsula.

Electric vehicles, batteries & charging

Faraday Future hit a new not-so-desirable milestone. The troubled EV company issued its first recall that covers all 11 vehicles — yes less than a dozen — it built last year. The recall centers around a problem with the warning light for the airbags in the company’s FF91 SUV.

General Motors resumed sales of the Chevrolet Blazer EV — and at a cheaper price — more than two months after the automaker pulled the vehicle over software problems.

Rad Power Bikes launched four new e-bikes and a newly engineered battery equipped with thermal resistant technology to prevent overheating or fires. The new batteries are potted with a heat-absorbing resin that protects against corrosion and overheating, according to the company. It encapsulates each battery cell, and if overheating occurs, the resin is supposed to stop the thermal event from spreading.

Stellantis introduced two all-electric versions of the Dodge Charger packed with the kind of features muscle car fans have come to expect — right down to a system that tries to mimic the rumble of a Hemi V-8 engine. Will the performance benefits in the all-electric Dodge Charger be enough to woo customers who are emotionally attached to the grumbling gas-powered version? I’m not so sure.

Tesla’s factory outside Berlin, Germany was forced to shut down after a suspected arson attack on the local power grid. The shutdown, which was expected to last at least a week, could cost the company an estimated $100 million.

This week’s wheels

Rivian R1S EV charging
Image Credits: Kirsten Korosec

What better way to get to the Rivian R2 event than to drive a Rivian R1S SUV? The company offered up one of the vehicles from its press fleet and I jumped at the opportunity. Why? I haven’t driven a Rivian in more than a year, I wanted to test the Rivian EV charging network and see how recent software updates have changed the vehicle experience. Plus, I wanted to spend time in the third-row R1S ahead of the company’s reveal of the R2, which is a smaller, more affordable SUV.

Quick thoughts:

  • I applaud a recent software update that added a new vehicle icon on the upper-left corner of the infotainment screen, and gives users quick access to some controls like opening the charge port or front truck as well as other shortcuts for car wash and pet mode.
  • I still and will always loathe the lack of a physical toggle to move the HVAC vents. This is my hill to die on.
  • The advanced driver assistance system is better, but still needs improvement. The vehicle still slightly ping pongs within the lane when the lane keeping feature is on and the torque sensor on the steering wheel is far too sensitive to my liking. I accidentally disengaged the ADAS several times. I did appreciate that the lane keeping and adaptive cruise control stayed on and did not disengage when I put my indicator on and moved into another lane. Neat!
  • The Rivian EV charger, or “adventure network” as it is branded, was easy to use and went smoothly. It was not the fastest charge; I pulled up to 120 kw. However, I was able to park and plug without the hassle of using a credit card or app. I am curious to test what the experience is like for non-Rivian owners. Unsurprisingly, I had some issues at my next stop, where I powered up the vehicle using an Electrify America charger. Two of the charging ports were not working, the app wouldn’t communicate with the charger and I ended up just using my credit card instead.

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