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Welcome back to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.
I’m back from SXSW! During my time there, I met with lots of founders and investors who had more to discuss than just the SVB collapse. Although that certainly dominated many conversations. Transportation didn’t take center stage in Austin like it did in 2018 or 2019, but there was a presence. And autonomous vehicle technology was one the main topics (yes, believe it or not!). Another theme was climate tech and what role transportation might play in the mitigation or adaptation to our changing world.
And finally, I sat down with GM CEO and Chair Mary Barra after her talk on stage (alongside Cruise co-founder and CEO Kyle Vogt). We covered a lot of ground and stay tuned for highlights this coming week.
(Side note: You can find all of our coverage on the collapse of SVB here.)
Join the transpo team’s Rebecca Bellan next week as she hosts TechCrunch Live. Bellan will be speaking with Eric Tarczynski of Contrary Capital and Harshita Arora, co-founder of AtoB, a startup building a payments system for trucking, logistics and fleets.They’ll discuss why venture capital should look at people before businesses, why fintech should be the cornerstone of a business, not a side project, and the reign of the Girl Genius.
Tune in on Wednesday, March 22 at 11:30 a.m. PT / 2:30 p.m. ET. You can register for the event here.
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Brisk EV says it’s the longest range moped in India with the ability to ride 207 miles on a full charge.
Dott, Lime, Superpedestrian, Tier and Voi have banded together to publish 10 recommendations for cities to better integrate their services. The recommendations aim to define the best environment for their services to function and how to regulate programs in a way that’s financially sustainable for them over the long term. Recommendations include suggestions on fleet sizes and vendor contract length, data sharing protocols, vendor fees, parking and more.
Eunora unveiled its Flash moped-style e-bike that can ride up to 220 miles on a single charge because it’s got a three-battery setup. That’s enough power to drive you from Boston to NYC.
India’s Hero MotoCorp is joining up with California startup Zero Motorcycles to develop premium e-motorbikes and powertrains.
New Mexico has a new bill in the works to give low-income residents up to $1,200 in discounts for electric bikes.
Almost every major scooter-sharing app, except for Voi, has seen a YoY rise in downloads. But downloads are not necessarily the best metric to gauge success in the sector. VCs plugged $5 billion into the industry, but none have seen returns on those hefty investments, and operators like Bird are actively pulling out of unprofitable cities and preparing to declare bankruptcy if they don’t raise more funds and get their houses in order.
The UK is slashing its active transportation budget by £200 million, which will make it nearly impossible for the country to reach its goal of 50% of all trips being by bike or foot by 2030. The cuts were made despite a recent Oxford study that found if 20% of car trips in Britain were taken by shared e-bikes or e-scooters, there would be a £1.1 billion boost to the economy.
Vässla is bringing its 42-pound, simplistic e-bike with a removable battery to NYC as a subscription service. It will also be available for purchase nationwide for $2,990.
Deal of the week
WeRide is trying to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology via the robotaxi model — and at scale. But the technology is far from mature and investors aren’t as keen to fund late-stage expansion as they once were.
The siren song of the public markets — and all of the capital they can provide — is simply too loud for WeRide to ignore. It’s apparently attractive to the Chinese company even though it will likely face scrutiny from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS).
China has also stepped up regulatory oversight on overseas-listed firms that could post national security risks in cross-border data transfers. Ride-hailing giant Didi was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange amid pressure from Beijing. WeRide’s competitor, Pony, also put its plan to go public in the U.S. via SPAC with a $12 billion valuation on hold.
Is WeRide’s IPO a sign that tensions are easing slightly, or does the company have a rough ride ahead of it? I’m betting the latter.
Other deals that got my attention ….
Arrival secured a $300 million equity financing line from Westwood Capital to help it stay in business into late 2023, but no later — not unless it can raise more funds with fewer strings attached. The company has all but shut down its microfactory in Bicester, UK, and is redirecting resources to building a new factory in the U.S., where it can build XL delivery vans. To fund that program, the company hopes to raise up to $500 million.
BlaBlaCar plans to acquire Klaxit, a smaller French carpooling startup, in 2024. The proposed terms of the deal weren’t shared, but BlaBlaCar says Klaxit will complement its own commuting service called BlaBlaCar Daily once the acquisition closes.
Broom, an Indonesia-based auto-financing startup, closed a $10 million pre-Series A round led by Openspace Ventures. The startup will use the funds to expand its platform to help used car dealers work more efficiently by applying the asset-backed lending model to their businesses.
Ford, Gotion and Our Next Energy have been authorized by lawmakers to receive $585 million to put towards EV battery plants in Michigan.
Pull Systems, the first startup to come out of the UP.Labs-Porsche partnership, debuted at SXSW 2023 and announced it raised $5 million from UP.Partners.
Via acquired popular urban mapping app Citymapper. Rumors that Citymapper was looking for a buyer have been circulating for months, so the fruits of that have finally come to light. The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but Via confirmed it’s a mixture of cash and stock. Sources close to the deal tell TechCrunch that Citymapper investors are mostly not making money back in the transaction and it’s effectively a washout.
Notable reads and other tidbits
Cruise, the self-driving unit under GM, is rolling out its custom-built Origin robotaxi on Austin’s public streets in the next several weeks, CEO Kyle Vogt said while onstage at SXSW 2023. The Origin vehicles won’t be accessible to the public — at least for a while. For now, Cruise will be testing the Origins on public roads in Austin. But Cruise said the vehicles will be open to customers in a “matter of months.”
The first Origin vehicles are already rolling off the production line at GM’s Factory Zero in Detroit and Hamtramck, Michigan. (I took this picture of the Cruise Origin while in Austin and the interior looks a lot different from the prototype that debuted in 2020.
Gatik has signed a multi-year deal with Kroger to deliver customer orders within the company’s Dallas distribution network. Operations of the cold chain-capable 20 foot box trucks will commence in Q2 with a safety driver onboard to start.
Kodiak Robotics signed a deal for an ongoing partnership with Forward Air Corporation to operate autonomous freight 24/6 between Dallas and Atlanta.
TuSimple and drama seem to go hand in hand. We us summarize.
Earlier this week, TuSimple filed an 8-K saying that co-founder Xiaodi Hou had resigned from his position on the board before an internal investigation into him could be concluded. The investigation sought to verify claims that Hou was approaching TuSimple staffers about leaving the company and joining his new venture.
Recall that Hou had a brief stint as CEO last year before being fired from that post, as well as president and CTO, amid U.S. federal investigations into the company for its ties to Chinese hydrogen-powered trucking company Hydron. One of Hydron’s founders is Mo Chen, who is also a co-founder at TuSimple and remains on the company’s board.
Hou responded to this 8-K with a letter to TuSimple’s board, which was also posted on LinkedIn, defending himself. His two main points:
1) Hou didn’t agree with CEO Cheng Lu’s generous pay package, which was agreed upon by a suspiciously small board, days before TuSimple then cut 25% of its staff. Sources familiar with the matter worry that Lu’s severance package ($15 million if fired without cause or if there’s a change in control, like if someone buys the company) might not incentivize the CEO to keep TuSimple up and running in the long run.
2) Hou protested what he says is a shift in focus away from L4 autonomy and towards L2. Developing L2 ADAS for the Chinese market has been on TuSimple’s roadmap since 2022, but Hou says this shorter-term goal is being prioritized, and he’s worried L4 will continuously get pushed out.
TuSimple has since responded to this with yet another 8-K that includes a response from Chen. He accuses Hou for not being transparent about disagreements with the company. Chen also went on to deny TuSimple’s shift in focus and generally call Hou’s claims false, misleading and written with the intent to hurt the company.
Whew! OK, all caught up now?
Electric vehicles, batteries & charging
The Biden Administration provided more details on how the $2.5 billion Charging and Fueling Infrastructure (CFI) Discretionary Grant Program will be dispersed over the next five years. The grants will help to deploy tens of thousands of EV charging stations throughout the U.S., particularly in communities most vulnerable to climate change and air pollutants. The first round of funding will provide up to $700 million in FY2022 and FY2023.
BMW’s first Neue Klasse models will feature a head-up display called Panoramic Vision, which will go into production in 2025. Not many details were shared, but some hints were dropped earlier this year at CES.
Lightship finally showed off to the world — or at least those attending SXSW in Austin this week — a prototype of the L1, an all-electric RV designed to remove a barrier for owners of all-electric SUVs and trucks who want to haul a travel trailer on long road trips. I took a tour and took lots of photos!
Porsche will add a full-sized all-electric SUV to its lineup — slotting above several other upcoming EVs — as part of its goal for 80% of all new sales to be EVs by 2030.
Rivian is in discussions with Amazon to dissolve the exclusivity piece of their commercial EV van deal. Speaking of Rivian, the company’s chief engineer Charles Sanderson has returned to McLaren as CTO.
Tesla is being sued in a pair of proposed antitrust class actions that accuse the company of unlawfully curbing competition for maintenance and replacement parts for its vehicles, making owners pay more and wait longer for repair services.
In other Tesla news, CEO Elon Musk tweeted that version 11 of the company’s full self-driving technology will see a widespread rollout this weekend. Tesla has delayed v11 for months. And … California’s Civil Rights Department (CRD) must provide Tesla with the details of the investigation it conducted prior to suing the automaker for racial discrimination, a judge has ruled. The ruling might give Tesla the chance to narrow the scope of the lawsuit, which the CRD filed after hearing several reports that Tesla’s Fremont factory was a racially segregated workplace.
Volkswagen Group and its battery company PowerCo have picked Canada for its first overseas battery cell factory. The plant, located in St. Thomas, Ontario, will produce battery cells beginning in 2027, according to the German automaker.
Waze is adding a new feature that helps EV owners find compatible chargers en route. All they have to do is enter their vehicle model and plug type into the app. The app, which relies on crowdsourcing traffic and road data from users, also hopes to avoid outdated and unreliable information about chargers — many EV owners have the common problem of driving up to a charging station only to find that the plugs are busted.
Future of flight
Volocopter is working with Nepalese airline SITA to collaborate on IT infrastructure for vertiports.
Zipline unveiled its new electric autonomous drone platform for last-mile logistics, which includes: 1) An updated drone, the P2 Zip, with four propellers that allow for vertical takeoff and landing, as well as hovering; 2) a new autonomous “droid” to replace parachuting packages to the ground, and should provide more accurate drops; 3) charging and docking infrastructure that’s easy for businesses to set up.
Bolt is expanding to Nepal to launch its on-demand ride-hailing service in Kathmandu.
In a win for app-based gig economy companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart, a California appeals court on Monday reversed a lower-court ruling that found Proposition 22 to be illegal. That means those companies can continue to treat their drivers like independent contractors, rather than employees, in the state, dodging financial employer responsibilities like minimum wage, unemployment insurance, sick leave and other business expenses. The decision is expected to be appealed and may go up to the California Supreme Court.