Posted on

The Station: Yandex spins out self-driving biz, Ike takes the SaaS road and a solid-state battery startup strikes SPAC

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 and welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

As summer comes to an end, deals have lagged a skosh ahead of what promises to be a busy fall. And while the news cycle continues, there has been a slight dip in intensity. Sounds like a good time to take a break, no? Yup, it is. Next week, there will not be an issue of the newsletter. Don’t worry, it will return Sept. 19.

Email me anytime at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Alright let’s get to it. First up, deals!

Deal of the week

Deals, we got em. And this week, a new SPAC stands out. Yup, you knew it. I knew it; we all knew another SPAC was coming. Some SPAC merger announcements feel like a desperate attempt by young unproven companies to access capital. That’s not the case this week.

QuantumScape, the solid-state battery company backed by Volkswagen Group, agreed to merge with a special purpose acquisition company Kensington Capital Acquisition Corp. The merger will give QuantumScape a post-deal market valuation of $3.3 billion.

QuantumScape is not a fledgling startup. It’s been around for decade, attracting attention and capital early on from high-profile venture firms like Kleiner Perkins  and Khosla Ventures. Volkswagen entered the picture in 2012 and has invested a total of $300 million in QuantumScape, including $200 million this year.

QuantumScape is going after the capitally intensive goal of attempting to commercialize solid-state batteries for electric vehicles. Solid-state batteries use a solid electrolyte and not a liquid or gel-based electrolyte found in lithium-ion batteries. Developers claim that solid electrolytes have greater energy density, which translates into squeezing more range out of a smaller and lighter battery. Solid electrolytes also are supposed to be better at thermal management, reducing the risk of fire and the reliance on the kinds of cooling systems found in today’s EVs.

Other deals that got my attention … (seems a little light this week, no?)

Geely Automobile Holdings plans to raise 20 billion yuan ($2.93 billion) from a public share sale on Shanghai’s STAR Market, funds that will be used to invest in new car models and technologies, Reuters reported.

Zomato, the Indian food delivery startup, has raised $62 million from Temasek, resuming a financing round that it originally expected to close in January this year. Singapore’s state investment arm Temasek financed the capital through its unit MacRitchie Investments, a regulatory filing showed.

AV spotlight: Yandex

Coverage of automated vehicle technology companies tends to focus on U.S.-based efforts. Rest assured, there is action elsewhere. Yandex, the publicly traded Russian tech giant that started as a search engine, is one of those companies.

The company has expanded into a number of other, related areas (similar to U.S. counterpart Google) including automated vehicle technology. In January, I rode in their self-driving vehicle (with no human behind the wheel) during a demo on public streets of Las Vegas during CES. I’ve never been a huge fan of demos as it can help companies hide problems with their tech. Yandex’s demo was notable however. The vehicle moved confidently, maybe even aggressively, as it maneuvered around a bus that had stopped in the roadway, it handled left turns as well as a parking garage with ease. (this GIF from Yandex is of a drive in Moscow, fyi)

I mention all of this background because Yandex said this week it is spinning out its self-driving car unit from MLU BV — a ride-hailing and food delivery joint venture it operates in partnership with Uber. The move comes amid reports that Yandex  and Uber were eyeing up an IPO for MLU last year. At the time, the JV was estimated to be valued at around $7.7 billion.

As part of the spin-out, Yandex is investing $150 million into the business, a sum that will include $100 million in equity, plus $50 million in the form of a convertible loan. Yandex is buying out some of Uber’s shares in this process and will now have a 73% stake in the spun-out business, with Uber owning 19%. The remaining 8% will be owned by Yandex self-driving group (SDG) management and employees. Yandex said it has invested some $65 million in the business up to now.

Spinning out the unit could help improve the unit economics and cost base of the MLU unit, as TechCrunch editor Ingrid Lunden noted in her report. But Yandex says that it’s being done to double down on a more focused investment in self-driving.

A different kind of EV startup

This isn’t an electric vehicle startup; it’s more like EV adjacent. And it’s an app!

A number of apps have popped over the past several years — in step with Tesla’s rising popularity. Most aim to let drivers track and plan their routes and often have a social component. Tezlab is a good example, and I’ve written about them before. 

The one I want to introduce you to is called Nikola. The app launched in 2018 as a hobby project of David Hodge, who founded a mass transit app called Embark, which Apple acquired in 2013. Hodge stayed at Apple for several years and then went to Stripe. But the Nikola app compelled him to go out on his own again.

This week, Hodge launched Nikola 2.0. Here’s the gist: Nikola 2.0 is a subscription-based app that provides health monitoring of the owner’s Tesla (just Teslas for now, but Hodge aims to expand).

Image Credits: Nikola

The app, which is only in iOS right now, gives the user information on battery level trends, efficiency, energy consumption, top and average speed as well as stats on weekly ghost drain and driving and charging history, which can be exported for tax or expense report purposes. Users can also check their battery level with the Nikola Apple Watch complication and compare their performance to other Tesla drivers with Nikola Fleet Stats.

What I am interested in is this other new feature called the Nikola report. It is like a Carfax report that an EV owner can share with prospective buyers when they go to sell their electric vehicle. The data collection for the Nikola report feature is just now getting started.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Welcome to the roundup section of the newsletter …

Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, is selling personal hand straps that can be quickly thrown onto poles in the train car for folks would rather not touch any surfaces.

GM and Ford have fulfilled their separate multi-million-dollar ventilator contracts — together delivering 80,000 of the devices to the U.S. government.

GM and Honda signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding to establish an automotive alliance in North America. The deal brings together two automakers that have a long established history of working together. The companies will share vehicle platforms, which will be sold under their respective and distinct brands, as well as cooperate in purchasing, research and development and connected services.

Ike, the automated trucking startup, had some big news this week. Ryder, DHL and NFI have chosen Ike as their automated driving technology provider. These fleets, and some others the company has not yet announced, have collectively reserved the first 1,000 trucks powered by its technology.

The startup also lifted the hood, so to speak, on their business model. Ike is taking a SaaS approach to automated vehicle technology.  The company explained in a blog post this week that it will sell a Software as a Service subscription to fleets. Customers will buy trucks equipped with Ike’s validated automation system from its OEM manufacturing partners. Automated trucks will be owned and operated by fleets and “Powered by Ike,” the post read.

REMINDER! Nancy Sun, the co-founder and chief engineer of Ike, will be on our virtual stage for the TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 event October 6 and 7. If you’ve never heard of Sun, or listened to her, be prepared to be impressed. The event is shaping up to be pretty great and we have a few more speakers left to announce.

Lucid Motors, which is set to reveal the Air on September 9, keeps dropping bits of info on the luxury electric vehicle. This time, Lucid announced that the Air is capable of a 9.9-second quarter mile. That’s faster than a Tesla Model S and faster than most production cars on the market.

Metromile, a pay-per-mile insurance company, said it’s teaming up with Ford Motor to provide owners of Ford vehicles equipped with built-in connectivity with personalized car insurance.

Tesla didn’t make it into the S&P 500 as so many had predicted. Tesla fans took to Twitter on Friday to gripe about the decision that welcomed Etsy, Teradyne and Catalan into the S&P.

Torc Robotics and its parent company Daimler Trucks, announced plans to expand their joint self-driving truck on-road testing to New Mexico this month and establish a test center in the Albuquerque area.

The U.S. government rolled out a new online tool designed to give the public insight into where and who is testing automated vehicle technology throughout the country. The official name of the online tool is the Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing Initiative tracking tool. While the design is simple and straightforward, it’s incomplete since it is based off of information that companies have volunteered. Let’s hope this is the beginning of what will become a comprehensive one-stop shop of all automated vehicle technology in the country.

VanMoof, the e-bike company is opening a store in Seattle — its third in the United States. The expansion illustrates the company’s growth, which has accelerated since March as sales of e-bikes in the U.S. popped 85% compared with the same month a year earlier.

Volkswagen released teaser images of its upcoming all-electric ID.4 compact SUV that shows what might just be a nice balance between tech and old timely toggles and buttons. Could this be the Goldilocks story of the EV world? I will find out later this month. Stay tuned.

Read More

Posted on

Daily Crunch: India bans PUBG and other Chinese apps

India continues to crack down on Chinese apps, Microsoft launches a deepfake detector and Google offers a personalized news podcast. This is your Daily Crunch for September 2, 2020.

The big story: India bans PUBG and other Chinese apps

The Indian government continues its purge of apps created by or linked to Chinese companies. It already banned 59 Chinese apps back in June, including TikTok.

India’s IT Ministry justified the decision as “a targeted move to ensure safety, security, and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace.” The apps banned today include search engine Baidu, business collaboration suite WeChat Work, cloud storage service Tencent Weiyun and the game Rise of Kingdoms. But PUBG is the most popular, with more than 40 million monthly active users.

The tech giants

Microsoft launches a deepfake detector tool ahead of US election — The Video Authenticator tool will provide a confidence score that a given piece of media has been artificially manipulated.

Google’s personalized audio news feature, Your News Update, comes to Google Podcasts — That means you’ll be able to get a personalized podcast of the latest headlines.

Twitch launches Watch Parties to all creators worldwideTwitch is doubling down on becoming more than just a place for live-streamed gaming videos.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Indonesian insurtech startup PasarPolis gets $54 million Series B from investors including LeapFrog and SBI — The startup’s goal is to reach people who have never purchased insurance before with products like inexpensive “micro-policies” that cover broken device screens.

XRobotics is keeping the dream of pizza robots alive — XRobotics’ offering resembles an industrial 3D printer, in terms of size and form factor.

India’s online learning platform Unacademy raises $150 million at $1.45 billion valuation — India has a new startup unicorn.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

The IPO parade continues as Wish files, Bumble targets an eventual debut — Alex Wilhelm looks at the latest IPO news, including Bumble planning to go public at a $6 to $8 billion valuation.

3 ways COVID-19 has affected the property investment market — COVID-19 has stirred up the long-settled dust on real estate investing.

Deep Science: Dog detectors, Mars mappers and AI-scrambling sweaters — Devin Coldewey kicks off a new feature in which he gets you all caught up on the most recent research papers and scientific discoveries.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

‘The Mandalorian’ launches its second season on Oct. 30 — The show finished shooting its second season right before the pandemic shut down production everywhere.

GM, Ford wrap up ventilator production and shift back to auto business — Both automakers said they’d completed their contracts with the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Read More

Posted on

GM, Ford wrap up ventilator production and shift back to auto business

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread to the United States, a number of automakers and other manufacturers announced plans to retrofit factories to help ease the shortage of personal protective gear and ventilators.

Now, two U.S. automakers have fulfilled their separate multi-million-dollar ventilator contracts — together delivering 80,000 of the devices to the U.S. government.

General Motors said Tuesday that it has completed its contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for 30,000 critical care ventilators delivered to the Strategic National Stockpile. GM said many of its ventilators have been deployed to hospitals. Ford has also completed its 50,000-ventilator contract, Bloomberg reported.

GM and Ford didn’t go it alone. Both automakers partnered with companies to accelerate the ramp up from 0 to thousands of ventilators within five months. GM partnered with Ventec Life Systems to produce ventilators at its engine plant in Kokomo, Ind., using about 1,000 workers. The GM-Ventec partnership grew out of  StopTheSpread.org, a coordinated effort of private companies to respond to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Ford teamed up with GE Healthcare to produce ventilators at the automaker’s Rawsonville Road plant in Michigan. Ford’s $336 million contract wrapped up August 28 when it shipped its final Model A-E ventilator unit. Ford’s contract was supposed to be fulfilled by mid-July, but said it was delayed by new suppliers that were ramping up parts production, according to Bloomberg. The company was granted an extension by HHS.

In the early days of the contracts, GM and Ford were criticized, and even attacked, by President Trump, although ultimately he applauded the efforts.

Both efforts stretched and showcased the capabilities of the automakers to convert portions of factories used to assemble vehicles and parts into facilities cranking out medical devices. Before GM even announced its partnership with Ventec, the automaker investigated the feasibility of sourcing more than 700 components needed to build Ventec’s critical care ventilators called VOCSN. Ventec describes these VOCSN devices as multi-function ventilators that were cleared in 2017 by the FDA.

GM initially estimated it would cost about $750 million, a price that included retrofitting a portion of the engine plant, purchasing materials to make the ventilators and paying the 1,000 workers needed to scale up production, the source said. However, the Trump Administration balked at the price tag, putting a contract with the U.S. government in limbo. Eventually, GM reached a $490 million contract with the federal government to produce 30,000 ventilators by the end of August. Under the contract, GM produced a different critical care ventilator from Ventec called the VOCSN V+Pro, a simpler device that has 400 parts. The other more expensive and complex machine had a multi-function capability.

Ford and GM also produced other medical supplies. Ford, which called its effort Project Apollo, said it produced more than 75 million pieces of personal protective equipment, including 19 million face shields, 42 million face masks,1.6 million washable isolation gowns and more than 32,000 powered air-purifying respirators in collaboration with 3M.

GM said its Warren facility has two production lines for face masks and a third line making N95 face respirators. To date, the facility has produced more than 10 million masks, with production going to employees at GM facilities or donated to community organizations, the company said.

Read More

Posted on

The Station: Uber eats rides, the next micromobility trend, Levandowksi’s day in court

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

A series of recent and upcoming vehicle reveals have provided yet another reminder of how automakers are doubling down on tech. This isn’t just about the shift away from knobs and buttons and towards giant touchscreens. I’m talking about advanced driver assistance systems and more specifically, ADA or active driving assistance. ADA is considered a part of ADAS, but it’s worth understanding what it is and is not. ADA systems combine steering, acceleration and braking. It’s technology that actively assists the driver.

Tesla’s Autopilot and GM’s Super Cruise, both of which combine adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assistance, are examples of ADA.

AAA automotive researchers recently conducted tests of these ADA systems. (A photo of a test vehicle colliding with a fake simulated vehicle is below) They found that over the course of 4,000 miles of real-world driving tests, vehicles equipped with active driving assistance systems experienced some type of issue every 8 miles, on average. Other problems included disengaging with little notice and “almost instantly” handing control back to the driver.

Based on the study, AAA is recommending automakers “increase the scope of testing for active driving assistance systems and limit their rollout until functionality is improved to provide a more consistent and safer driver experience.”

I’ll add my own two cents in here. It’s not just about ensuring the systems work as intended. It’s also important that these systems have protections, like driver monitoring systems, so that if control is suddenly handed back to the driver, you can be sure that they will be ready.

Friendly reminder that you can reach out and email me anytime at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

There’s a hot trend brewing the micromobility world: hardware-as-a-service.

Unagi, the company that sells sleek, portable electric scooters, has launched a subscription service. The service, called Unagi All-Access, will be offered in New York City and Los Angeles. The company said it plans to expand to additional markets as it gathers customer feedback and refines the service.

For a flat monthly fee of $39 (or $34 if a customer signs up for a year), Unagi will cover maintenance and insurance for scooter theft or damage.

Unagi isn’t alone in this scooter subscription pivot, or what I like to call hardware-as-a-service. Others are also pursuing this business model, including Dance and Voi.

How many more will move to this model?

Other micromobility news this week …

Image Credits: Uber

Those iconic bright red Jump bikes have been integrated into the Lime app. Why this matters?

Three months ago, Jump’s bikes and scooters disappeared from city streets after Uber unloaded the micromobility company to Lime as part of a complex $170 million fundraising round. When the Jump bikes were finally spotted it was in a recycling yard, where more than 20,000 of them laid in piles, awaiting their demise.

New, unused Jump bikes were tucked away in storage. Lime has started to add those Jump bikes to cities like Denver, London, Paris, Seattle and Washington, D.C. But they were only available through the Uber app. Now, the Jump bikes will show up on the Lime app — as red, not green bike icons. This is the first time since Lime acquired Jump’s assets that the bikes have been integrated into its app.

Deal of the week

The Summer of the SPAC continues with yet another electric automaker turning to a blank check company to go public.

This time it’s Lordstown Motors, the one-year-old Ohio electric automaker that revealed a pickup truck prototype in June. The company said it reached a deal to merge with special-purpose acquisition company DiamondPeak Holdings Corp., with a market value of $1.6 billion.

Electric automakers Nikola Motor and Fisker Inc. have also become public companies through a SPAC over the past two months. Shift Technologies, an online used car marketplace and sensor company Velodyne Lidar, also went public via a SPAC, sidestepping the traditional IPO path.

Axios’ Dan Primack predicted recently that more SPACs are coming. He noted that SPACs have raised $24 billion so far in 2020. What company is next?


Speaking of publicly traded companies, Chinese electric automaker Xpeng filed its F-1 on Friday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. An F-1 is a required filing for foreign companies that want to be listed on an American stock exchange.

To get up to speed, Xpeng recently raised around $500 million in a Series C+ round. That announcement followed its Series C round of $400 million closed last November.

I haven’t read EVERY SINGLE LINE of the F-1 (I promise more of a deep dive next week). But here’s one highly unusual item. The company has negative gross margins. It brought in revenue, but its cost of sales surpassed revenue. So, negative. This isn’t including other costs like operating expenses or R&D.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Buckle, a financial services company that insures gig economy workers, including ride-hailing drivers, raised $31 million in Series A funding co-led by Eos Venture Partners and HSCM Bermuda.

ChargePoint, the electric vehicle charging network, raised $127 million in funding in a bid to expand its platform for businesses and fleets in North America and Europe. A mix of existing investors from the oil and gas, utilities and venture industries added to the round, including American Electric Power, Chevron Technology Ventures, Clearvision and Quantum Energy Partners.

Grab raised $200 million from South Korean private equity firm Stic, bringing its total funding so far to more than $10 billion at a valuation of about $14.3 billion, per Bloomberg, which cited unnamed sources. Grab wouldn’t comment about the raise to TechCrunch. Grab did reveal this week that its financial unit is launching a slew of consumer products, including micro-investments, loans, health insurance and a pay-later program.

Streetlight Data Inc., a transportation analytics company, raised $15 million in a Series D round that included Macquarie Capital and Activate Capital as well as existing investors Osage University Partners and Ajax Investment Strategies.

StreetLight Data CEO Laura Schewel told TechCrunch that use of the company’s mobility metrics doubled in just the first month of the pandemic. New volatility of travel — led by a steep COVID-driven decline, then a less-than-gradual return to a ‘new normal,’ and significant mode switching from transit to bikes — has propelled government transportation agencies to turn to StreetLight, according to Schewel.

“We’ve also seen a massive surge in new customers within the thousands of small transportation engineering firms supporting the DOTs, who have been forced by COVID-19 to accelerate their transition to digital data collection (as opposed to going out and doing manual counts or installing devices),” she said. “We’re of course adjusting where we put our resources to be able to serve these growing segments.”

Uber acquired U.K.-based Autocab, which sells SaaS to the taxi and private hire vehicle industry.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Remember when August was the slow news month? Not anymore.

Autonomous cars

Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer and serial entrepreneur who was at the center of a lawsuit between Uber and Waymo, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison on one count of stealing trade secrets. Levandowski also agreed to pay $756,499.22 in restitution to Waymo and a fine of $95,000.

He will not have to report to prison until the COVID-19 pandemic is under control.

Levandowski was pushing for home confinement. Judge William Alsup, who also presided over the Uber v. Waymo trial, disagreed. He said home confinement would “[give] a green light to every future brilliant engineer to steal trade secrets. Prison time is the answer to that.”

But as Mark Harris and I discovered, Levandowski is not skulking away. Levandowski recently filed a lawsuit making explosive claims against Waymo and Uber that, if proven, could turn his fortunes around with a multi-billion-dollar payout. Whether this is a last-ditch effort by a desperate man whose career has been upended by his own poor choices or a viable claim against a double-dealing tech titan will be up to the courts to decide.

This new lawsuit, filed as part of Levandowski’s bankruptcy proceedings, mostly focuses on Uber’s agreement to indemnify Levandowski against legal action when it bought his self-driving trucking company, Otto Trucking. It also includes new allegations concerning the settlement that Waymo and Uber reached over trade secret theft claims.

The end goal: Levandowski believes and claims in the lawsuit that he should be awarded earn outs associated with the profits of Uber Freight  — the new name of Otto Trucking  — an amount that “should be at least $4.128 billion.” He also wants Uber to pay the $179 million sum that was awarded to Google in arbitration.

Connected cars

The Black Hat security conference is that annual event that reminds me of how vulnerable connected cars can be. This year, security researchers at the Sky-Go Team, the car hacking unit at Qihoo 360, found more than a dozen vulnerabilities in a Mercedes-Benz E-Class car that allowed them to remotely open its doors and start the engine.

As our cybersecurity editor Zack Whittaker noted, vehicle security has gotten better over the past half-decade. But Sky-Go’s researchers showed that not even one of the most recent Mercedes-Benz models are impervious to attacks.

Delivery

Amazon’s plan to take a 16% stake in on-demand food delivery app Deliveroo was approved by the U.K.’s competition regulator.

DoorDash launched a digital storefront to sell household goods and other items you might find at a convenience store. The storefront, called DashMart, is available in eight cities throughout the United States. These are essentially micro-fulfillment centers that carry around 2,000 items. Warehouse employees pick and pack the orders, and then delivery workers, known as Dashers, come to collect the order and deliver to the customer.

Uber seems to be popping up all over the place in this week’s newsletter. And delivery is one area I couldn’t ignore. The company reported its second-quarter earnings and buried in the blizzard of numbers (really this earnings report was a 100-year storm of figures) was a nugget that stood out.

Uber’s delivery business — better known as Uber Eats — is now bigger than its original and core ride-hailing division, based on adjusted net revenue. Now, adjusted net revenue tells only a piece of this evolving Uber story. Income, or losses in the case of Uber’s delivery business, are also important.

Still, looking at the change of the past year, and specifically in the past two quarters, it’s clear that Uber’s strategy has shifted. Here are some Q2 numbers to chew one.

  • Delivery gross bookings: $6.96 billion
  • Mobility gross bookings: $3.05 billion

Here’s how those gross bookings results turned into adjusted net revenue:

  • Delivery adjusted net revenue: $885 million
  • Mobility adjusted net revenue: $793 million

And how those revenue results turned into adjusted profit, and adjusted losses:

  • Delivery adjusted EBITDA: -$232 million
  • Mobility adjusted EBITDA: $50 million

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi provided the upshot during the Q2 earnings call. “It’s become clear that we have a hugely valuable hedge across our two core businesses that is a critical advantage in any recovery scenario. When travel restrictions lift we know the mobility trips rebound. If restrictions continue or need to be re-imposed our delivery business will compensate.”

Ride-hailing

Uber and Lyft are facing separate lawsuits from the office of the California Labor Commissioner alleging wage theft. The lawsuits filed this week argue Uber and Lyft are misclassifying their drivers as independent contractors. The end goal: enforce labor practices set forth by California law AB 5 and claw back money allegedly owed to these drivers.

In a separate — yet related matter — Uber and Lyft are fighting to prevent a preliminary injunction that would force the companies to immediately reclassify their drivers as employees. California Superior Court Judge Ethan P. Schulman heard arguments from Uber and Lyft, as well as lawyers representing the people of California, regarding the request for a preliminary injunction.

Car bits

Image Credits: Cadillac

GM revealed the Cadillac Lyriq, an all-electric crossover that aims to set the benchmark for future Cadillacs and propel the brand into a new electrified era.

That new era for Cadillac will have to wait though. The Lyriq will go into production in the U.S. in late 2022, more than two years after its reveal date. The Cadillac Lyriq will be a global product, meaning it will be headed to China as well. Production in China will begin ahead of the U.S., according to Cadillac.

The Lyriq is just one in a roster of 20 electric vehicles that GM plans to bring to market by 2023. The cornerstone of GM’s electric strategy isn’t a specific electric car or truck. It’s a new scalable electric architecture called Ultium that will support a wide range of products across all of its brands, including Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC.


Ford is changing up its leadership. The company announced that CEO Jim Hackett is retiring effective October 1, although he’ll stay on as a special advisor until March 2021. Jim Farley, who many believed was being groomed for the position, has been named president and CEO.

Hackett will be leaving Ford three years after being tapped to transform the automaker into a leaner, more competitive and profitable company while investing in technology and shifting toward electrification, automation and connectivity.

Hackett’s turnaround plan was aimed at modernizing the company while making it fitter and included $14 billion in cost reductions over five years. While Hackett accomplished some of those goals, he fell short in others, particularly around the day-to-day toil of making and shipping vehicles.

Speaking of Ford, this column by John Stoll at the WSJ is thought provoking. Ford has struggled to appease shareholders. Stoll argues that the company’s lofty ambition to “lap Tesla” might require extraordinary measures. “Sometimes, the answer is to take back control,” he writes. And that means taking Ford private.

One fun thing

Jason Stinson, the CTO and co-founder of Renovo, a Silicon Valley company that has created a data management platform for self-driving vehicles, has taken his virtual Zoom meetings with employees to a whole new level.

He dresses up for every meeting. And by “dress up,” I’m not talking about the traditional suit and tie. Instead, Gene Simmons from KISS might show up. Or a shark, gondolier, a roller derby Christmas elf, The Greatest American Hero, Pickle Rick from “Rick and Morty” or even The Dude from “The Big Lebowski” may also attend a company meeting.

We would never know about these amazing costumes, if it weren’t for his wife, Aileen Lee, the founder and managing partner of Cowboy Ventures. Thankfully, Lee has been posting photos of Stinson on Twitter. (SF Gate also wrote about Stinson’s meetings.)

Aileen, thank you for your service. Lee is a force within the venture community; you can and should follow her @aileenlee.

Image Credits: Alieen Lee

Read More

Posted on

The Station: ADA turns 30, Panasonic’s new battery tech and delivery (data) woes

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

Before we get into all the mobility news and analysis of the week I wanted to flag an upcoming event that might be of interest to the budding entrepreneurs out there. TC Disrupt, that BIG annual event we hold each fall, is virtual this year. I can’t tell you everything yet, except we put a lot of effort and tech into making this interactive and exciting. This is not going to some boring webinar.

We’re adding a bunch of new events to Disrupt this year, including something we’re calling Pitch Deck Teardown. Top venture capitalists and entrepreneurs will evaluate and suggest fixes for Disrupt 2020 attendees’ pitch decks. Investors who signed up for the Pitch Deck Teardown, include Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures, Charles Hudson with Venture Forward, Niko Bonatsos of General Catalyst, Megan Quinn with Spark Capital, Cyan Banister of Long Journey Ventures, Roelof Botha from Sequoia and Susan Lyne with BBG.

Only pitch decks of registered Disrupt attendees will be selected. Here’s a complete breakdown of the event and how to register.

The Pitch Deck Teardown couldn’t come at a better time either. During our Early Stage event last month, Jake Saper with Emergence Capital talked about how to time your Series A fundraise. September just so happens to be a big month for investors to review pitch decks.

Alrighty then. Vamos.

Friendly reminder that you can reach out and email me anytime at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

This summer is turning out to be a crucial period for scooter companies vying for permits in a handful of markets. Cities learned a thing or two during that first wave of electric scooters that hit the streets a couple of years ago. This time around, city leaders are placing more restrictions on e-scooters and limiting the number of companies allowed to operate in an urban area. That’s an important change, and one that raises the stakes for scooter companies.

First there was Paris, which awarded Dott, Lime and Tier permits to operate in the city. Now, Chicago has issued permits to Bird, Lime and Spin for its second pilot program. Chicago is limiting scooter use to 15 mph between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. And there are few areas, like the Lakefront Trail, where scooters are prohibited.

Each scooter company is limited to no more than 3,333 devices, 50% of which must be deployed with an equity priority area. New to the second pilot is a requirement that all e-scooters must have locks that require riders to secure the scooter to a fixed object to end their trip.

On a side note, Lyft did not apply for the scooter permit. I asked Lyft, ‘why not?’ The company said it’s focusing on its expansion of Divvy, Chicago’s bike-sharing system. The city made Lyft the exclusive operator of Divvy last year and now starting to expand. The Divvy system will eventually include 16,500 bikes and 800 stations. Here’s what Lyft had to say:

“We have spent the better part of the last year working with communities in Chicago’s South and West Sides to prepare for new stations and ebikes. In order to prioritize our work with CDOT to expand Divvy and provide the highest possible experience for Divvy members, Lyft opted out of submitting an application that mirrored requests of this year’s scooter pilot. We are dedicated to the long-term success of micromobility in Chicago, and we look forward to future opportunities to work with the City to combine the benefits of bikes and scooters into one Divvy membership.”

In other micromobbin’ news …

Bird said Friday it is launching its shared e-scooters in Yonkers, New York as an “exclusive” operator. The word “exclusive” is one of those buzzwords that is tossed around a lot so I asked what this actually means. And Bird says it is the only company that will be issued a permit to operate in Yonkers. So there you have it. The company’s fleet of next-generation Bird Two scooters will be available to rent starting August 10.

Image Credits: Bird

Revel, the shared moped startup, has shut down operations in New York City following two deaths within days of each other. The startup’ blue mopeds had become a common sight in New York City. Revel, founded in March 2018 by Frank Reig and Paul Suhey, started with a pilot program in Brooklyn and later expanded to Queens. Revel has been on a fast-paced growth track, expanding to Austin, Miami and Washington, D.C in its first 18 months of operation. In January, the company launched in Oakland and recently announced plans to expand to San Francisco this August.

The company said in a statement that is reviewing its safety measures and does plan to return to New York.

Deal of the week

Prickly relations between China and the United States, particularly around trade, has not slowed the march of Chinese companies hoping to list on American stock exchanges. Li Auto is just the latest example, Rita Liao reported this week.

Li Auto is aiming for a growing Chinese middle class that aspires to drive cleaner, smarter and larger vehicles. Its first model, sold at a subsidized price of 328,000 yuan, or $46,800, is a six-seat electric SUV that began shipping at the end of last year.

The five-year-old Chinese electric vehicle startup raised $1.1 billion through its debut on Nasdaq. Li Auto priced its IPO north of its targeted range at $11.5 per share, giving it a fully diluted market value of $10 billion. It also raised an additional $380 million in a concurrent private placement of shares to existing investors.

Image credit: Li Auto

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Argo AI is now valued at $7.5 billion, a figure that was confirmed Thursday, nearly two months after VW Group finalized its $2.6 billion investment in the autonomous vehicle technology startup. You might recall that Argo came out of nowhere in 2017 with $1 billion (to be spread over several years) in back from Ford. Last year, VW announced it was going to invest in Argo as well.

Under the deal that was finalized last month, Ford and VW have equal ownership stakes, which will be roughly 40% each over time. The remaining equity sits with Argo’s co-founders as well as employees. Argo’s board is comprised of two VW seats, two Ford seats and three Argo seats. Ford said Thursday it netted $3.5 billion in the second quarter from selling some of its Argo equity to Volkswagen.

AUTO1 Group, the European digital used-car trading platform, raised 255 million euros ($300 million) in the form of convertible notes. The round  was led by Farallon Capital Management and the Baupost Group as well as existing investor Softbank Group, the NYT reported.

Cargo.one, a Berlin-based startup that runs a marketplace for booking air freight, closed an $18.6 million Series A round of funding led by Index Ventures. Other participants in the round include Next47 as well as prior backers Creandum, Lufthansa Cargo and Point Nine Capital. A number of angel investors also joined in, including Tom Stafford of DST Global and Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas, the COO of GoCardless and former chief product officer of Skyscanner.

LINE MAN, the Thai food delivery platform that is a unit of Japanese chat app LINE Corp, raised $110 million from BRV Capital Management and merged with a local restaurant aggregator. LINE MAN is loading up on capital as it aims to compete with Singapore-based Grab, Indonesia’s Go-Jek and Foodpanda of Germany’s Delivery Hero SE, Reuters reported.

FreightWaves, the freight data and analytics company, raised $37 million in a round led by Kayne Partners Fund. Other investors include 8VC, Fontinalis Partners, Revolution Ventures, Hearst Ventures, Prologis Ventures, Story Ventures and Engage Ventures.

Theeb Rent-a-Car is looking into a potential initial public offering. The Saudi Arabian rental company hired Saudi Fransi Capital to advise on the IPO, Bloomberg reported.

Toyota is taking a 10% stake in BluE Nexus, a company that makes electric drive modules. The investment is part of a deepening collaboration between the two companies.

Xpeng, the Chinese electric vehicle startup and Tesla rival that just announced a $500 million Series C+ round, is reportedly in talks to raise around $300 million ahead of an initial public offering (IPO) in the United States. (back to my earlier point about interest among Chinese companies to list on U.S. stock exchanges)

Delivery and data (breaches)

Image credit: Getty

If you hadn’t noticed, delivery has been cast as one of the big success stories to emerge during the COVID-19 pandemic. I use the term “cast” because it’s not all sunshine, roses and rainbows for the delivery industry or its users.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a spike in demand for delivery services. It has also helped propel unprecedented consolidation as companies like Uber seek profitability.

There are challenges though, including an area that perhaps deserves A LOT MORE ATTENTION. I’m talking about data and privacy. Delivery companies, which includes a growing number of autonomous and teleoperated services, collect a ton of personal data from its customers. The kind of valuable data, like home addresses and credit card numbers, that are sold on the dark web.

This week, our cybersecurity editor Zack Whittaker reported on two data breaches involving delivery companies. The first was Drizly, one of the biggest online alcohol delivery services in the U.S. and Canada, raising over $68 million to date. Drizly told customers a hacker “obtained” some customer data. The hacker took customer email addresses, date-of-birth, passwords hashed using the stronger bcrypt algorithm and, in some cases, delivery addresses.

As many as 2.5 million Drizly accounts are believed to have been stolen. Here’s something to take note of, Drizy told TechCrunch that no financial information was compromised. However, a listing on a dark web marketplace from a well-known seller of stolen data claims otherwise. TechCrunch, of course, didn’t link to it. But Whittaker did take and share a screenshot.

Meanwhile, online shopping and delivery service Instacart is blaming customers who reused passwords for a recent spate of account breaches. The data breach compromised 270,000 Instacart customers. The company published a statement late on Thursday saying its investigation showed that Instacart “was not compromised or breached,” but pointed to credential stuffing, where hackers take lists of usernames and passwords stolen from other breached sites and brute-force their way into other accounts.

Customers can’t shoulder all of the responsibility. Instacart, as Whittaker notes, still does not support two-factor authentication, which — if customers had enabled — would have prevented the account hacks to begin with.

Other delivery news …

Flipkart, which is owned by Walmart, launched a hyperlocal service in suburbs of Bangalore, four years after the e-commerce group abruptly concluded its previous foray into this category.

The new service called Flipkart Quick uses the company’s supply chain infrastructure and a new location mapping technology framework to deliver within 90 minutes to customers more than 2,000 products across grocery, perishables, smartphones, electronics accessories and stationary items.

It’s electric

Remember the days when electric vehicle news was relegated to Tesla, the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt? Times have changed and, well, stayed the same. Tesla still dominates the headlines and this week wasn’t any different. (more on them later). But now, there are dozens of other electric vehicle models coming to market. The upshot: charging infrastructure is becoming more important. (Hey, not everyone has a garage).

This week, GM and EVgo announced plans to add more than 2,700 new fast chargers. The rollout, which will take five years, will triple the size of the EVgo network. The first of these new EVgo fast charging stations will be available to customers starting early 2021.

The companies are targeting high-traffic areas like grocery stores, retail outlets, entertainment centers, areas where people typically spend 15 to 30 minutes. The stations, which will be powered by renewable energy, will feature new charging technology with 100 to 350-kilowatt capabilities, the companies said.

The charging partnership follows a numerous announcements from GM around its electric vehicle strategy. Earlier this week, GM said steel construction has started on the nearly 3-million-square-foot factory that will mass produce Ultium battery cells and packs. The Ultium battery, along with a modular propulsion system and electric vehicle platform, is the cornerstone of GM’ strategy to bring 20 electric vehicles to market by 2023.

GM recently released a video of its upcoming GMC Hummer EV and next week plans to reveal the Cadillac LYRIQ.

Image Credits: GM/EVgo

Other electric news this week …

BMW said it will offer the all-electric versions of X1 compact SUV and the 5 Series as part of the German automaker’s plans to have 25 electrified models in its portfolio by 2023.

Electric Brands is working on a VW Bus-inspired EV called the eBussy, via The Drive.

Fisker Inc. revealed in a presentation that was filed with the SEC that a “cornerstone agreement” with Volkswagen has been delayed, the Verge reported. Fisker wants to use Volkswagen’s modular EV platform for its upcoming electric vehicles.

Kandi Technologies Group, the Chinese electric vehicle and parts manufacturer, bringing two EVs to the United States through its subsidiary Kandi America. The two models, which are priced under $30,000 before federal incentives, will be the cheapest EVs in the United States.

Lucid Motors provided new details about its upcoming electric vehicle, the Air. In short, this luxury EV sedan is loaded up with hardware — dozens of sensors, a driver monitoring system and an Ethernet-based architecture — for an advanced driver assistance system that aims to match and even surpass its rivals.

There will be 32 sensors in all, according to Lucid, which has branded its advanced driver assistance system DreamDrive. Lidar, a sensor that gets a lot of attention, will be on the vehicle. But I was struck by the number of radar sensors on the Air. There will be five radars in all, giving the vehicle 360 degrees of radar coverage.

Panasonic revealed to TechCrunch this week that it developed new battery technology for the “2170” lithium-ion cells it produces and supplies to Tesla, a change that improves energy density by 5% and reduces costly cobalt content. The new, higher energy dense 2170 cells will be produced by Panasonic at Tesla’s factory in Sparks, Nevada. Improvements on the battery tech will continue with a 20% improvement in energy density over the next five years and a goal to be cobalt free.

Rivian’s retail strategy is starting to emerge. The company has said it will try and repurpose existing buildings for its stores, when possible. This week, the company said it is pursuing the purchase of the historic Laguna Beach South Coast Cinema. The theater’s present structure, was opened in 1935 and stood as the city’s only cinema until it closed its doors in August 2015.

Tesla’s sales in China are becoming increasingly important to its bottom line. An SEC filing this week shows that revenue in China climbed 102.9% year-over-year to $1.4 billion. That means China now makes up 23.3% of Tesla’s total revenues of $6 billion in the quarter, compared to just about 11% in the same period a year before.

Tesla also revealed in the same SEC filing that it received payroll-related benefits from the government, funds that helped reduce the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its business, Reuters reported.

Speaking of Tesla … CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter on Tuesday night to say that the automaker would be “open to licensing software and supplying powertrains & batteries” to other automakers. Musk added that that would even include Autopilot, the advanced driver assistance software that Tesla offers to provide intelligent cruise control in a number of different driving scenarios. No word on whether any companies are biting.

ADA and mobility

Image Credits: iStock / Getty Images

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 paved the way for decades of incremental changes to the way buildings, businesses and laws accommodate people with a wide variety of disabilities. As reporter Devin Coldewey notes, the law’s effect on tech has been profound.

There is still a lot of work to do. I’m looking at all of you autonomous vehicle engineers, designers and founders.

Here are a few stories that highlight the impact of ADA.

Start with Coldewey’s overview on ADA and tech. Then move over to Streetsblog, which digs into the role bicycles have played as mobility assistive devices. Finally, check out this story on Fable, a startup that aims to make disability-inclusive design easier by providing testing and development assistance from disabled folks on-demand.

See ya’ll next week. 

Read More

Posted on

Ford Bronco reservations surpass 150,000

The reception to Bronco 2021 — Ford’s flagship series of 4×4 vehicles that were revealed earlier this month — surpassed expectations of the company’s most optimistic initial projections, CEO Jim Hackett said in an earnings call Thursday. 

More than 150,000 customers have plunked down $100 to reserve a spot to order one of the vehicles, according to Ford. 

“We think this family of vehicles has big upside potential in the growing off-road category and this is a category with a leading OEM has not been seriously challenged until now,” Hackett said.

These are, of course, mere reservations, not actual orders. The deposits are refundable. Now, Ford is focused on the due diligence required to determine how many of these reservations will be converted to orders as it lay outs its manufacturing strategy for the brand.

The Ford Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 will be built at Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan. The Bronco Sport will be assembled at plant in Mexico. The company is now determining how many shifts to staff at each factory in order to match actual orders.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Ford COO Jim Farley said in a call with analysts Thursday. “But the mix is great.”

The Bronco is a brand that leans heavily on nostalgia, customization, functional design and technology, such as the automaker’s next-generation infotainment system and a digital trail mapping feature that lets owners plan, record and share their experiences via an app.

While the response to the Bronco has been palatable, there are a number of competitors also aiming to win over customers. GM released a video this week teasing its all-electric GMC Hummer. While the video was a promotional mashup of buzzwords, it also showed that GM had clearly identified Ford Bronco and Tesla Cybertruck as its main competitors. Then there’s electric upstart Rivian, which plans to start production of its EV pickup and SUV in 2021.

Read More

Posted on

Self-driving startup Argo AI hits $7.5 billion valuation

Autonomous vehicle technology startup Argo AI is valued at $7.5 billion, just a little more than three years after the company burst on the scene with a $1 billion investment from Ford.

The official valuation was confirmed Thursday nearly two months after VW Group finalized its $2.6 billion investment in Argo AI. Under that deal, Ford and VW have equal ownership stakes, which will be roughly 40% each over time. The remaining equity sits with Argo’s co-founders as well as employees. Argo’s board is comprised of two VW seats, two Ford seats and three Argo seats.

Ford’s announcement in February 2017 that it was investing in Argo AI surprised many. The startup was barely six months old when it was thrust into the spotlight. Its founders, Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander, were known in the tight knit and often overlapping autonomous vehicle industry; prior to forming Argo, Salesky was director of hardware development at the Google self-driving project (now Waymo) and Rander was the engineering lead at Uber Advanced Technologies Group. But even those insiders who knew Salesky and Rander wondered what to make of the deal.

Since then, Argo has focused on developing the virtual driver system — all of the sensors,  software and compute platform — as well as high-definition maps designed for Ford’s self-driving vehicles.

That mission now extends to VW Group as well. Ford and VW will share the cost of developing Argo AI’s self-driving vehicle technology under the terms of the deal. The Pittsburgh-based company also has offices in Detroit, Palo Alto and Cranbury, N.J. It has fleets of autonomous vehicles mapping and testing on public roads in Austin, Miami, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

The investment by VW expands its workforce and operations to Europe. Autonomous Intelligent Driving (AID), the self-driving subsidiary that was launched in 2017 to develop autonomous vehicle technology for the VW Group, is being absorbed into Argo AI. AID’s Munich offices will become Argo’s European headquarters. In all, Argo now employs more than 1,000 people.

While the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles will be a long journey — a remark shared Thursday by Ford CEO Jim Hackett — the Argo investment has already provided the automaker with a short-term and timely gain.

The automaker said Thursday it netted $3.5 billion in the second quarter from selling some of its Argo equity to Volkswagen. That gain gave the automaker a one-time boost in its second-quarter earnings.

Ford posted a $1.1 billion profit in the second quarter, if the Argo transaction is counted. Ford lost $1.9 billion in the quarter before interest and taxes and one-time items. Ford reported a revenue of $19.4 billion, a 50% decrease from the same period in 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic which caused the company to idle its factories for weeks.

Still, the result could have been far worse. Ford had previously warned that it could post as much as a $5 billion net loss in the second quarter.

Despite these COVID-19 headwinds, Hackett said Ford is still committed to the long-term pursuit of AVs, a point reiterated by CFO Tim Stone, who said the automaker continues to make investments to commercialize its autonomous vehicle business, including product development, engineering and testing.

“The AV journey will be a long one, but Ford is now well positioned to run this race and compete like few others can,” Hackett added.

Read More

Posted on

The Station: Summer of the SPAC, Adam Neumann returns and the Nissan Ariya debuts

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

The dog days of summer are almost upon us. Technically, we won’t enter this period until July 22. In normal times, vacation season would be well underway and the hit song of the summer would be established and a regular guest at every beach party, barbecue and dance club. That’s not exactly what’s going down this summer. However, we do have ourselves a hit financial instrument of the season. The SPAC, or Special Purpose Acquisition Company, is this summer’s “Seniorita.” Everywhere you turn, there it is.

More on the SPACs and other fun stuff below. Vamos!

Reach out and email me anytime at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

We know that COVID-19 has changed the way we work and move around cities when we do leave our homes. Public transit ridership has dropped in many dense urban areas. And so did shared scooter and bike ridership, although there is evidence that these two modes of transportation are rebounding.

Micromobility company Lime looked at its ridership data the month before the lockdown began  and compared it with the month after. Lime CEO Wayne Ting noted in a blog post this week a few emerging trends. People are riding scooters 34% longer and 18% farther; and they’re using them for recreation and to run errands. Lime also discovered that travel is starting in neighborhoods more often than in pre-COVID times.

And bikes, as we’ve noted here before, are back and more popular than ever. Lime said its e-bike rental service has seen record usage, with users taking longer journeys and the bikes being used more frequently. In London, Lime recorded its highest-ever usage in a single day last month, with over 4,000 new users, the company said.

While the survey by Lime might seem self serving, the data has been compelling enough to change how, and more specifically where, it operates. The company has taken the bikes and scooters out of areas typically dominated by tourists and moved them into neighborhoods. It’s also rolled out new flex passes and is finally bringing some of those Jump bikes back to cities.

In other micromobility news …

In the mopeds arena, TechCrunch’s Catherine Shu examines Taiwan-based WeMo and its plans to expand internationally.

Meanwhile, shared electric moped startup Revel received a permit that will allow it to operate in San Francisco, beginning in August. Revel will start with a fleet of 432 mopeds featuring a new paint scheme and a more powerful engine to help riders get up and over the city’s infamously steep hills.

Over in the bikes world, a new brand has emerged called Superstrata that hopes to standout with its 3D printed carbon fiber unibody that is based on precise measurements of each customer. Superstrata told TechCrunch that this translates into more than 250,000 unique combinations

But Superstrata is not just some new bike startup. It’s a new brand under Arevo, the Bay Area-based additive manufacturing startup. Superstrata is meant to demonstrate Arevo’s push into manufacturing as a service and composite additive manufacturing.

The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition will hold its two-day summit virtually next month. Registration is $50. While many of the discussions will have a local focus, these are universal issues that cities around the U.S. and beyond face. Expect discussions on slow streets movement, equity, bikeway designs and safety.

Deal of the week

Remember way back in January when it looked like direct listings were the going to be the favored method to bringing a company public? Welp, direct listings are out and SPACs are in.

Electric car maker Fisker has become the latest example of this trend. The company, which just raised $50 million from investors, said it reached an agreement to merge with Spartan Energy Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company sponsored by an affiliate of Apollo Global Management Inc. As a result, Fisker will become a public company with a valuation of $2.9 billion. The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

Fisker said this will provide the funding it needs to bring its first product, the all-electric Fisker Ocean SUV, to production in late 2022.

The agreement marks the latest company to turn to SPACs in lieu of a traditional IPO process. Online used car marketplace startup Shift Technologies, Velodyne Lidar and Nikola Motor have all gone public by merging with a special-purpose acquisition company.

SPACs are not new, even if you’re learning about them for the first time. Would a SPAC by any other name smell as sweet? Why yes, yes it would. These have been around for decades and have gone by different names, including “blind pools” and “clean shell companies.” These blank-check companies — see another name — is a corporation that has no defined business plan or purpose other than to raise money from public markets to acquire a private company.

Other deals that got our attention this week …

Adam Neumann, the controversial co-founder and former CEO of WeWork, is back and investing in the shared economy. This time with a focus on mobility.

Neumann’s family office, 166 2nd Financial Services, invested $10 million into GoTo Global as part of a $19 million Series B round. GoTo Global is a shared mobility company that operates in Israel and Malta and aims to expand into Europe later this year. The company is aiming to cover the entire range of shared vehicles from cars and mopeds to bicycles and electric scooters.

Neumann has a 33% stake in GoTo Global and can appoint one board member on his behalf. Existing shareholder Shagrir Group Vehicle Services, a publicly traded Israeli company, also participated in the round.

Drover, a UK startup that provides access to flexible car subscriptions for private users, raised  £20.5 million ($25.7 million) in a round of funding co-led by Target Global, RTP Global (the Russian company formerly known as ru-Net) and Autotech Ventures. New investors Channel 4 Ventures and Rider Global, as well as previous backers Cherry Ventures, BP Ventures, Partech, Version One and Forward Partners also participated. Drover did not disclose its valuation. The company has raised £27.5 million to date.

Chinese electric automaker Li Auto filed for a $100 million IPO and plans to list on the Nasdaq. (missed this filing last Friday). The company recently raised $550 million.

Navistar and self-driving trucks startup TuSimple deepened their two-year relationship and  announced plans to develop and begin producing autonomous semi trucks by 2024. Navistar also took an undisclosed stake in TuSimple. The plan is to move away from retrofitting the Navistar International commercial trucks that TuSimple currently uses and instead develop semi trucks specifically designed for autonomous operations.

Self-driving trucks startup Plus.ai is in talks to raise $60 million, The Information reported. The fundraising for the company that is based in China and the U.S., is still under negotiation. Hong Kong-based investment and securities firm Guotai Junan International is expected to lead the round that could value Plus.ai between $600 million to $1 billion.

Skydio raised $100 million in a Series C funding round led by Next47. New investors Levitate Capital and NTT DOCOMO Ventures joined the round with existing backers a16z, IVP and Playground. The funding will be used to accelerate product development efforts, expand its go-to-market strategy beyond consumer applications to enterprise and public sector drone technology.

Uber acquired Routematch, an Atlanta-based company that provides software to transit agencies as the ride-hailing company looks to offer more SaaS-related services to cities. Expect more public transit SaaS deals.

Uber did not share terms of the deal. This doesn’t appear to be a minor “acqui-hire,” in which a company is purchased to land a few talented employees. Instead, Uber is making a strategic acquisition for a company that has developed software used by more than 500 transit agencies. The operations of the 170-person company will continue and CEO Pepper Harward will remain.

More Uber news. This time the company is reportedly talking with investors about taking a stake in its Uber Freight division, Bloomberg reported. Discussions are underway to raise $500 million, a round that would give the freight business a standalone valuation of about $4 billion after the deal.

Startup spotlight

The startup spotlight is like a mini version of my “startup editions” newsletter that was sent out earlier this month. I’m not using a scientific method to pick these startups and when I do, it might not even be tied to a particular announcement. Basically, if I see something interesting I will put it here.

Which brings me to Onfleet, a SaaS company that created a platform for last-mile delivery services across a wide array of industries. The software platform handles the logistics of delivery such as route planning, dispatch, real-time tracking, analytics and communications for companies like Imperfect Foods, MedMen and Total Wine & More. As you might suspect, deliveries are hot right now. But that doesn’t mean Onfleet hasn’t had to adjust.

Image Credits: Onfleet

Co-founder and CEO Khaled Naim and I spoke awhile back about how the company has had to change in response to COVID-19. For instance, the company created a contactless signature feature that it rolled out in early May. Now its corporate customers can include a special URL in the SMS notifications that go out to recipients when a driver gets close to their destination. The user, say a person waiting for that wine or beer delivery, is then prompted to sign for the package on their phone. It has been a critical addition for regulated industries such as alcohol, cannabis and pharmaceuticals, where a signature is legally required, Naim said, noting these are significant segments for the company.

Onfleet has seen deliveries explode since March and is now averaging more than one delivery per second throughout the week, with peaks of more than three deliveries per second, Naim said.

Global delivery volume is up with notable spikes in alcohol, cannabis, grocery, pharmacy, prepared meals, meal kits and restaurants. He added that a handful of sectors like catering, laundry and dry cleaning have been hit pretty hard by COVID-19.

There are new segments emerging as well. For instance, seafood distributors and breweries, which once were delivering to restaurants, have shifted to business-to-consumer operations. Pet food deliveries are also up as local pet stores find new opportunities to generate revenue.

“A lot of our customers have been stretched and are trying to serve an increase in demand, while at the same time struggling with a shortage of drivers,” Naim said.

In response, Onfleet created a delivery driver job board to connect drivers with delivery gigs globally. And as global demand has surged, Onfleet had to add four languages to its driver app, including Italian, German, Dutch, and Arabic. French and Spanish have been available for awhile now.

If you have a mobility startup that has adjusted its business model due to COVID-19 or have some interesting data to share, email me. As always, I never promise coverage but I will take a look. 

Notable reads and other tidbits

More transportation news! Let’s get to it.

Autonomous vehicles

AutoX, autonomous vehicle startup backed by Alibaba, has been granted a permit in California to begin driverless testing on public roads in a limited area in San Jose.

German lawmakers are preparing legislation that could commercialize driverless vehicle technology by next summer. The landmark legislation, if passed, would provide a long overdue framework that would cover both homologation and road traffic requirements for robotaxis in which the computer controls the vehicle at all times, Automotive News Europe reported.

Nuro posted a blog in Medium about food deserts and the role that autonomous delivery bots will play in providing more healthy options to underserved communities. The company calculated how many homes could theoretically be reached within 30 minutes from all major supermarkets with a self-driving delivery vehicle operating at speeds up to 45 mph. Nuro compared that data to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) data on food desert locations. The startup said it could reach 14 million low-income households in food deserts nationwide, or 70% of the total low-income population in food deserts. (Again, this is all theoretical at this point. I noted here to illustrate potential scale and the company’s ambitions.)

SAFE published a report called Fostering Economic Opportunity through Autonomous Vehicle Technology that aimed to better understand the transportation challenges in low-income communities. The study concluded that about two-thirds of Americans live in neighborhoods that are beyond their means because of largely unseen transportation costs. SAFE, of course, sees autonomous vehicles as a way out. The hypothesizes that AV transportation could reduce household costs by as much as $5,600 per household.

Cities

Berkeley is taking police officers out of traffic enforcement and replacing them with unarmed employees of a newly formed Department of Transportation, per Streetsblog.

Silicon Valley cities San Jose, Cupertino and Santa Clara have been mulling a transit system that would connect its growing airport with major employers and other high-profile destinations along the Stevens Creek Boulevard corridor, an area that includes Apple headquarters. The group asked companies to submit proposals for innovative transit modes. A consultant, who hired to evaluate the proposals from companies that included The Boring Company, BYD and Bombardier, has released its findings. San Jose Mercury News has the breakdown of the top proposals, which included personal pod cars, hyperloop and driverless shuttles.

It’s electric

Dan Brouillette, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, announced $139 million in federal funding for 55 projects that will support advanced vehicle technologies. Six of these innovative projects will be led by teams in Michigan.

BMW struck a long-term deal with Swedish-based Northvolt for $2.3 billion worth of battery cells.  The battery cells will be produced in Europe at the Northvolt factory that is under construction in northern Sweden.

Nissan is moving on from the Leaf. The automaker unveiled the Nissan Ariya, an all-electric SUV with an estimated 300 miles of range and a starting price tag of $40,000 that marks the beginning of a four-year plan aiming for growth and profitability. The Nissan Ariya will first be sold in Japan in mid-2021, before heading to dealerships in the U.S. and Canada later in the year, the company said in digital event in Yokohama, Japan.

Image Credits: Nissan

Tesla has secured more than $61 million of tax incentives if it builds a $1.1 billion factory near Austin, Texas. Commissioners in Travis County, home to Austin and the possible next Tesla factory, approved Tuesday property tax breaks worth at least $14.7 million — and potentially more — over 10 years. The incentives are on top of $46.6 million in property tax abatement that the Del Valle School District Board approved earlier this month. 

Elon Musk disputed a German court ruling that bans the company from using on its website or other advertising terms like Autopilot or “full potential for autonomous driving.”

Future Cars!

Automakers are rethinking the interior of vehicles, the WSJ reports.

Ford relaunched Bronco after a 24-year hiatus. There was an abundance of coverage on the Bronco 2, Bronco 4 and Bronco Sport — including my story that looked at how the automaker leaned heavily on nostalgia, customization, functional design and technology.

Image credits: Ford

And finally, as autonomous vehicle technology companies continue the slog towards commercially deployed Level 4 trucks and robotaxis, automakers have turned to advanced driver assistance systems. It’s a trend that I first noticed back in late 2018 and into early 2019. Now, it’s at full tilt as automakers race to offer hands-free — but driver engaged — systems. Reuters examines the ramifications and challenges to this pursuit.

See ya’ll next week.

Read More

Posted on

Ford blends tech and nostalgia in the 2021 Bronco

The Bronco is officially back. After 24 years, Ford relaunched the 2021 Bronco in a splashy reveal streamed Monday evening on ABC, ESPN and National Geographic, each short film showcasing a different member of the family: the Bronco 2-door, Bronco 4-door and Bronco Sport.

The Bronco 2021 — Ford’s flagship series of 4×4 vehicles — is a brand that leans heavily on nostalgia, customization, functional design and technology such as the automaker’s next-generation infotainment system and a digital trail mapping feature that lets owners plan, record and share their experiences via an app.

This is not the 1966 Ford Bronco, the first year that the rugged two-door off-roader came to market to compete with the Jeep CJ-5. However, the DNA from that heritage model is present in this modern take of the Bronco 2 as well as a new four-door version. The third model, the Bronco Sport, is a comfier, smaller snd cheaper spinoff that is designed to be capable off-road as well as function as a daily driver on the city streets and highways.

Production on the new Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 will begin in early 2021 with the first models arriving in dealerships next spring. The Bronco Sport is slated to reach dealerships later this year. All three of Bronco models will be built at Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan. Ford has also opened up reservations, where prospective customers can plunk down $100 to hold their spot for the Bronco two- and four-door models.

The base model Bronco 2 starts at $29,995 and the Bronco 4 starts $34,695. The base version of the Bronco Sport starts at $28,155. (all prices include the including $1,495 destination and delivery charge)

There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s start with the basics of the Bronco two-door and Bronco four-door vehicles as well as the smaller Bronco Sport. Then we’ll dig deeper into some important themes including nostalgia, design, customization and technology.

Bronco 2 and Bronco 4

Pre-production versions of the 2021 Bronco, shown here, include Bronco two-door in Cyber Orange Metallic Tri-Coat and Bronco four-door in Cactus Gray. Photo: Ford

Both models have a steel chassis and an independent front suspension, the aim here being to improve control. At the rear, the solid axle design features coil springs with five locating links to provide control off road and strength. The vehicles come with two possible engines — a 2.7-liter V6 or 2.3-liter four cylinder— and are available in 7-speed manual and 10-speed automatic transmissions. The 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 engine is projected to produce 310 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. of torque, while the 2.3-liter four cylinder engine has torque of 310 lb.-ft. with an expected 270 horsepower.  No word yet on gas mileage.

Ford gave Bronco 11.6-inch ground clearance, a 29-degree breakover angle and 37.2-degree departure angle. It also has water fording capability of up to 33.5 inches. Just to be safe, Ford designers added more protection and heft, including modular steel bumpers with integrated winch mount. Some of the higher-end versions of the Bronco comes with steel shields to protect critical hardware, including the engine, transmission, transfer case and fuel tank.

Oh, and how could I forget. Ford is making 35-inch off-road tires available in every trim level on the Bronco 2 and Bronco 4.

Bronco Sport

The all-new Bronco Sport Badlands series in Rapid Red Metallic Tinted Clearcoat.

Meanwhile, the Bronco Sport is a slightly different animal aimed to be that go everywhere and do everything family truckster. The Sport offers a lot of the same off-road capability in a smaller package.

The Bronco Sport has two EcoBoost engines to choose from, depending on the trim. There’s a 2.0-liter  engine that produces 245 horsepower and 275 lb.-ft. of torque or a 1.5-liter engine with a targeted 181 horsepower and 190 lb.-ft. of torque. Both engines are paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Certain trims of the Bronco Sport also come with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

The vehicle also has a Safari-style roof that provides enough space to put two bikes in the back. The vehicle also has the flip-up liftgate glass, a convenience detail that lets you quickly throw gear back into the vehicle. The five trims levels are base, Big Bend, Outer Banks, Badlands and First Edition and have starting prices that range between $28,155 all the way to $39,995.

Digging deeper into the family of Bronco vehicles a few themes emerge, particularly with the Bronco 2 and Bronco 4. The vehicles are meant to remind us of the original while pushing forward to the future. They’re designed to be rugged and institute modern human-centered functional design, while embracing technology in some key areas.

Nostalgia

Pre-production 2021 Bronco two-door SUV takes its design cues from the first-generation 1966 Bronco.

While technologists might cast a bit of side eye at nostalgia, there’s no denying its power. As TechCrunch’s Matt Burns noted last week Ford is going to use the old Bronco to sell the new Bronco, just like Nintendo uses past games to sell new games.

The 2021 Bronco 2 is clearly new, particularly once you look inside. But glancing over the exterior it’s hard to miss inspirations from the original.

The Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 has square proportions, short overhangs and a wide stance, all aspects that make these vehicles primed for off roading. They also harken back to the original design. From the side, you’ll notice distinct edges and flared fenders, again a nod to the first Bronco.

Customization

Here’s where the 2021 Bronco series really shines. Ford has comes up with innumerable ways to customize the Bronco 2 or Bronco 4 and even the Bronco Sport.

The automaker is offering seven different versions of the Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 with matching color and trim combinations. There are also 11 different paint choices and four content package. The options begin with the base no-frills version and ends with the Wildtrak and Badlands versions for for more extreme off-road adventuring. The Big Bend, Black Diamond and Outer Banks sit in the middle. And of course, there’s a limited-production First Edition that will be offered at launch. The base models of all three Broncos fall under $35,000. But that price starts to rise as with the trim levels and other options.

The automaker also has more than 200 factory-based accessories.

The Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 are meant to be configured in multiple ways. For instance, the Bronco 2 models come with a standard three-section roof system. There’s also premium-painted modular top with four sections that adds a removable panel over the rear seats and cargo area.

The Bronco 4 has four removable roof sections, all which Ford promises can be removed by one person by unlocking the latches from the interior. The models are also available in soft or hardtops, or can be optioned with both. Even the large open wheel wells are a modular design with a quick-release attachment for customization.

The doors of the Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 can also be removed. The doors are frameless, a design decision that aims to make them easy to remove and store in protective bags. The Bronco 4 is large enough to store all four doors onboard.

All of those options come with a price, however. The most expensive trim level, the First Edition hits just below $60,000.

While it might not have the same degree of customization as the Bronco 2 and Bronco 4, there are plenty of ways to configure the Bronco Sport as well.

The vehicle is available in five trims, including the base model, Big Bend, Outer Banks, Badlands and First Edition as well as four available accessory bundles. Ford is offering more than 100 factory-backed standalone accessories to transport a variety of gear including kayaks, skis and camping equipment.

Technology

Much of the technological focus is on the four-wheel drive system and is at the heart of the brand’s so-called Terrain Management System.

Ford is offering two different 4×4 systems on all Bronco models, a base setup and an advanced system. The base system uses a two-speed electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case. The optional advanced system has a two-speed electromechanical transfer case that adds an auto mode for on-demand engagement that lets the driver select between 2H and 4H (two high and four high). The Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 have up to seven driver-selectable modes for off-road driving, including Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, with Baja, Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl.

There is other technology in the vehicle beyond the 4×4 system. The Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 comes with the next-generation Ford SYNC 4 infotainment system and a feature that stores more than 1,000 curated topographic trail maps that are accessible online or offline. The maps can also be shared with others.

The infotainment system features a multifunction color LCD instrument panel that Ford says were inspired by the first-generation Bronco. The SYNC 4 infotainment system, which has twice the computing power of the previous generation, includes an 8-inch or 12-inch center display and features natural voice control, real-time mapping and will be able to be updated wirelessly just like the software on your smartphone. The SYNC system also displays an optional 360-degree camera system that gives drivers “spotter” views of the vehicle, a feature that could come in handy while in technical off-roading situations like rock crawling.

Moving down from the center display, the driver can interact with the transmission shifter/selector and G.O.A.T. Modes controller (off road modes) in the center console.

Customization details include an available leather-wrapped shift lever for the 7-speed manual transmission, as well as grab handles. Image Credits: Ford

Grab handles are actually integrated into the modular instrument panel and center console for those Oh S—T moments (obviously for the passenger).

Ford also included attachment points that are built into the instrument panel to mount pretty much any device you might want, including cameras, navigation units, phones or other devices.

The instrument panel in the 2021 Bronco two- and four-door models is ready for installation of accessories such as a bring-your-own-device rack shown on this prototype. Image Credits: Ford

Design

Another big piece of the Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 is the focus on functional design. This is meant to be an off road vehicle, after all. And it should function as such.

For instance, the trail sights on the front fenders also can be used as tie downs and can handle longer items like canoes. Those trail sights are placed so a user can tie off a boat or other equipment without scratching the paint or lights. But they can also be taken off or replaced with other gear, Bronco chief designer Paul Wraith noted in a briefing before the reveal.

Image Credits: Ford

“You can swap them out or bolt on extra lights or Go Pros,” Wraith said. “And, especially if you’re shorter, you can simply use them to tell you where the corners of the truck are, which just goes to show that innovation doesn’t always need a microchip.”

And as mentioned above, the interior is also designed with an accessory-hungry owner in mind. Other design features include a floor drain and flooring material on select models, hooks on the back seats for lashing down gear while on the road and a slide-out rear tailgate.

A slide-out rear tailgate. Image Credits: Ford

Want more photos? OK, click the gallery. (All photos from Ford).

Read More

Posted on

Ford’s Bronco relaunch demonstrates the power of nostalgia

Ford is finally taking the wraps off the reborn Bronco next week. Literally. The company has teased the vehicle for months, showing a camouflaged SUV bouncing through rocky streams and charging over dusty hills. This week, the wraps come off and the sheet metal will finally be exposed.

The launch of the Bronco looks to be a masterclass in nostalgia. For the last few weeks, Ford has been feeding journalists with media assets — pictures, staged interviews and upcoming advertisements. I’ve yet to see the full vehicle because in the end, Ford is not relying on the Bronco itself to drive sales, but rather, is digging deep into the power of nostalgia to move the Bronco off lots.

Recalling the past can help companies develop a unified theme around a product or service. In this case with the Bronco, only recalling part of the past helps companies dial in messaging. With Ford, the company wants consumers in agreement: This is a tough vehicle and it’s always been a tough vehicle. Forget about OJ, these adverts say. Instead, look at how the Bronco was used by two burly men bounding over the rolling hills of a cattle ranch. Ford is digging deep into American lore to show the Bronco as a rugged conqueror of the frontier instead of a conqueror of parking lot flowerbeds.

The Bronco is an iconic American vehicle. It wasn’t the best-selling nor the best-performing vehicle in its class. It had reliability issues and was often underpowered and outclassed by competitors. And yet, like the Mustang, it was a hit for Ford. In 1966 Ford unveiled the Bronco as a competitor to the Jeep CJ-5 and International Harvester Scout. Ford took the Bronco racing and racked up wins in long-distance endurance races. Over its 31-year run, the Bronco remained true to itself as a two-door, sport utility vehicle.

The upcoming model is set to be different than the past. Ford is relaunching the Bronco as a family of vehicles with three models at launch. Little is known about the difference at this time, though the family appears to include a two-door off-roader, four-door version and an entry-level sport model.

Image Credits: Ford

The launch of the new Bronco is similar to how Ford launched the retro Mustang in 2005. At the time, the Mustang was coming off decades of stale designs and lagging sales. The Fox body Mustang of the 80s was boring at best (though the 5.0 engine is notable), and the swooping design of the ’90s model was uninspired. In 1999, Ford launched a sharp, modern take on the Mustang, and yet in a few years, it was time for something new.

Read More