The Station: Archer Aviation's two big scores, a boost for e-bikes and how Uber defines adjusted EBITDA

Kirsten Korosec
·17 min read

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Hi friends and new readers, 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.

There is quite a bit to get to this week, so let's charge forward.

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

Micromobbin'

the station scooter1a
the station scooter1a

The spike in electric bike sales was one of the rosier outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, new legislation introduced this past week by U.S. representatives Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) could push sales even higher. The Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment (E-BIKE) Act proposes creating a consumer tax credit that would cover 30% of the cost of an electric bicycle up to a $1,500 credit. The proposed bill applies to new electric bicycles that cost less than $8,000 and is fully refundable, allowing lower-income workers to claim the credit, according to Panetta's announcement.

Individuals can use the credit once every three years, or twice for a joint-return couple buying two electric bicycles. The bill also mandates that the IRS provide a report after two years to help lawmakers understand how the credit is being distributed across income tax brackets. There is an existing tax credit for two-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles. However, that tax credit only applies to motorcycles that travel at least 45 miles per hour, not bicycles.

While support from bicycle advocacy groups has poured in (my inbox overfloweth), it's unclear if the E-BIKE Act will gain enough support within Congress to actually become law. PeopleForBikes, one of several groups that supports the legislation, noted that studies show a 15% increase in electric bicycle mode share in the United States will cause carbon emissions to fall 11%.

There is at least one other effort to deliver tax benefits to bicyclists. Blumenauer is also working to reinstate the bicycle commuter tax benefit, which was axed in 2018 under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The original benefit let employers reimburse workers up to $20 per month for bicycle commuting expenses. Blumenauer introduced last month the Bicycle Commuter Act of 2021, which would extend benefits to commuters who use e-bikes, bike share and more traditional bicycles.

Meanwhile, on the micromobbin' SPAC front ...

Helbiz, the micromobility startup that offers e-scooters, e-bicycles and e-mopeds and operates across Europe and in several U.S. cities, announced it will merge with a special purpose acquisition company to become a publicly listed company. The deal with GreenVision Acquisition Corp. is expected to close in the second quarter. The combined entity, which will be named Helbiz Inc. and listed on the Nasdaq exchange under HLBZ, will have a valuation of $408 million.

Notably, the company is going to use capital from this deal to expand into "cloud" or "ghost" kitchens as part of a move into food delivery.

Taking a tour of the companies' SEC filings, it looks like that valuation is based off of the more than $4 million in revenue that Helbiz generated in 2020. About 96% of that revenue came from its mobility rentals and the remaining 4% from advertising through its app and at charging docks. Helbiz is projecting that by 2025 (just four years from now) it will have $449 million in revenue from its mobility and advertising streams as well as "new verticals." Presumably, this is the ghost kitchens.

I'll be curious to see if other micromobility SPACs follow Helbiz' announcement and if this activity helps push up valuations of rivals like Lime. (You might recall that last May Lime raised $170 million at a reduced valuation of $510 million. However, Lime CEO Wayne Ting has more recently painted a more positive financial picture of the company.)

I've also heard plenty of SPAC rumors swirling around Bird. But what about the others?

Deal of the week

money the station
money the station

Electric aircraft startup Archer Aviation landed two deals this past week that helped it earn "deal of the week" status. The company, which is targeting the urban air mobility market, reached an agreement to merge with special purpose acquisition company Atlas Crest Investment Corp. for an equity valuation of $3.8 billion.

It also snagged United Airlines as a customer and an investor. United placed an order for $1 billion of Archer's aircraft and has the option to buy an additional $500 million of aircraft, according to Archer.

On the SPAC side of things, Archer said it expected to receive $1.1 billion of gross proceeds, including $600 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, from investors such as United Airlines, Stellantis and the venture arm of Exor, Baron Capital Group, the Federated Hermes Kaufmann Funds, Mubadala Capital, Putnam Investments and Access Industries. Ken Moelis and affiliates, along with Marc Lore, who is one of Archer's primary and initial backers, are investing $30 million in the PIPE.

The combined company will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange with ticker symbol "ACHR."

Archer has yet to mass produce its electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, which is designed to travel up to 60 miles on a single charge at speeds of 150 miles per hour. The company has said it plans to unveil its full-scale eVTOL later this year and is aiming to begin volume manufacturing in 2023.

Other deals that got my attention ...

BusUp, the bus commuter platform startup raised $6 million in a Series A round led by Latin American mobility investment firm Proeza Ventures. Autotech Ventures and IESE's Business School venture fund Finaves V also participated. BusUp has focused on the Europe and LatAm markets. This new funding will be used to expand operations in the United States and consolidate other existing markets in response to growing interest in employer-provided commuter benefits and mobility services. You might recall that just last week, I wrote about a similar company called Hip.

Chowbotics, a Bay Area-based robotics best known for its salad-making robot, Sally, is about to be gobbled up by delivery service DoorDash. Terms of the deal aren't known yet. Chowbotics has raised around $21 million to date, including an $11 million round back in 2018. The company's vending machine-style salad bar robot was already well-positioned for the pandemic, removing a human element from the food preparation process -- not to mention the fact that salad bars and buffets tend to be open air affairs. In October, the startup added a contactless feature to the robot, letting users order ahead of time, via app, per TechCrunch hardware editor Brian Heater.

Joby Aviation is in talks to go public in a SPAC deal that would value the electric plane manufacturer at nearly $5.7 billion, the Financial Times reported. You might recall that Joby recently picked up Uber's air taxi unit Elevate. Last year, the company raised $590 million from investors in a round led by Toyota.

Kargo, a smart loading dock platform startup founded in late 2019, raised $6 million in seed money from Founders Fund, Accomplice, Sozo Ventures and other unnamed investors. Kargo is a hardware and software company. Kargo sells sensor towers, which are mounted to a loading dock. The computer vision sensor is able to automatically identify and verify all incoming and outgoing freight in real time. The accompanying software platform, which Kargo offers as a subscription, takes in all of that data. Customers use the platform to take a macro or micro view of its supply chain.

Hyzon Motors, a hydrogen fuel cell startup focused on commercial vehicles, reached an agreement to go public via a merger with special purpose acquisition company Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corporation at a $2.7 billion valuation.

Instabox, the Sweden-based startup that focuses on last-mile deliveries for e-commerce, raised $90 million in a Series B funding round was led by EQT Ventures, Sifted reported.

Plus.ai, the self-driving truck technology startup that operates in China and the United States, raised $200 million in a round led by new investors Guotai Junan International, CPE and Wanxiang International Investment. Existing investors including FTA also participated. The company plans to use the new funds to "accelerate the global commercialization and deployment of its automated trucking system." The company is developing a sales and support network to help fleets integrate the Plus automated trucking system into their daily operations. Plus will also scale deployments in the U.S. and China, and expand internationally to Europe and other parts of Asia, CEO and co-founder David Liu told me in a recent interview. I may run snippets of our chat in next week's newsletter, so stay tuned.

Siemens is preparing to sell off Intelligent Traffic Systems, its traffic light technology and equipment unit, Reuters reported. The company is targeting a valuation of between $604 million and $725 million.

A little bird

blinky cat bird green
blinky cat bird green

Veoneer reported during its earnings call February 3 that it had lost an existing lidar production contract with an autonomous vehicle customer. Veoneer indicated that this unknown OEM customer had chosen a different path for it lidar core technology. This is actually a loss for Velodyne as well, as Veoneer announced back in 2019 that it was leveraging the lidar company's technology for a contract to supply the sensor to this same unnamed AV customer.

Veoneer CEO Jan Carlson said during the call that volumes from this OEM customer have decreased over time and emphasized it would not affect its order book. "But we are seeing a big shift in lidar technologies overall over-time," Carlson said. "Our strategy, as I mentioned before is to be a strong integrator. We provide, of course, experience in cybersecurity. We provide automotive-grade experience. We can provide functional safety to startup companies that have a tech know-how, but not really or into the automotive environment."

So who is this AV customer? Emmanuel Rosner, over at Deutsche Bank, said his educated guess is Ford (Argo). His explanation: "Ford has been an early investor in Velodyne, and it stands to reason it had placed a contract to use Velodyne sensors in its Argo robo-taxis, but it has now canceled the order. It's unclear whether Argo will now be using another LiDAR supplier, or if it will use its own sensors developed in-house through Argo's acquisition of Princeton Lightwave."

My own sources confirm that this is indeed Ford/Argo. It seems that the intention was to use Velodyne for its autonomous vehicles, but that was scrapped in large part because Argo made faster progress on its own in-house lidar from Princeton Lightwave.

Update: This newsletter ran over the weekend. Ford reported via an SEC regulatory filing that it no longer held any shares of Velodyne. Apparently it sold off its remaining stake by the end of 2020. Ford had held almost 13.1 million shares — a value of about $244 million — in Velodyne at the close of the third quarter of 2020.

Speaking of Argo, I missed an interesting tweet from the company in early February that explains it has expanded its operating domain to include highways. This means that Argo is now testing and operating in urban and suburban areas as well as highway environments. That highway piece is important for any aspiring robotaxi as airports are a common drop-off and pickup point for today's ride-hailing customers (OK, well at least in pre-COVID times).

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery
the-station-delivery

A bunch of other transportation-related news happened, so let's dig in.

Automotive tech

Analyst firm LMC said that the semiconductor shortage cost the auto industry at least 450,000 units of lost production in January and February, an issue that will likely continue through the first half of the year, Automotive News reported. But there might be some good news in LMC's report.

LMC forecasts that vehicle production will fall 10% globally in the first quarter from 2019 figures. That means an overall loss of 1.1 million units with 600,000 to 700,000 due to the chip shortage and the remainder from renewed COVID-19 lockdowns.

Luminar, the lidar startup that recently became a publicly traded company via a SPAC, has added Dr. Mary Lou Jepsen and Katharine A. Martin to its board of directors. Jepsen is the CEO, founder and chairman of Openwater, a company focused on replacing the functionality of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). She also currently serves on the board of Lear Corporation. Martin is the chair of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati's board of directors and a partner in the firm's Palo Alto office. Jepsen and Martin will join existing board members Austin Russell (founder and CEO), Alec Gores, Matthew Simoncini, Scott McGregor and Ben Kortlang.

Autonomous vehicles

Aurora reached a deal with Toyota and auto-parts supplier Denso to develop and test vehicles equipped with the self-driving startup's technology, beginning with a fleet of Toyota Sienna minivans. Engineering teams from Aurora and Toyota will work together to design and build the self-driving Sienna minivans with an aim to start testing a fleet by the end of 2021, according to the companies.

Lest you forget, Aurora acquired in December Uber Advanced Technologies Group, the self-driving vehicle unit that spun out from Uber in 2019 after raising $1 billion in funding from Toyota, Denso and SoftBank's Vision Fund. Aurora's acquisition, which closed January 20, was actually a pretty complex deal in which Uber handed over its equity in ATG and invested $400 million into Aurora. Uber now holds a 26% stake in the combined company. Toyota also has a minority stake in Aurora as a result of the acquisition.

Aurora co-founder and chief product officer Sterling Anderson emphasized that this is a new partnership and not just an extension of Toyota's agreement with Uber ATG. However, there are a lot of similarities to an agreement reached in 2018 between Toyota and Uber to bring an on-demand autonomous ride-hailing service to market. Under that deal, which included a $500 million investment by Toyota, the companies agreed to integrate Uber ATG's self-driving technology into the Sienna minivans for use in Uber's ride-hailing network. The vehicles later could be owned and operated by third-party fleet managers, Toyota and Uber ATG said at the time.

Hyundai Motor Group showed off a new version of its "walking car" robot concept that can use its wheels to roll along a path or stand up and navigate tougher terrain on its legs. This time, the concept is designed to carry cargo and is small enough to be carried by a drone. The TIGER robot -- short for transforming intelligent ground excursion robot -- is the first "uncrewed" ultimate mobility vehicle (UMV) concept to come out of New Horizons Studio, the Mountain View, California facility that is home to Hyundai Motor Group's UMV development.

While concepts oftentimes never become a reality, New Horizons Studio head John Suh told me that his aim is to bring Tiger to life "as soon as possible," adding that it would likely be a five-year process. Suh said the team will spend the next two years focused on solving some core technical problems to establish a baseline design. In 2023 and 2024, the team will get to the beta-product stage and advanced testing will begin before finally becoming a product customers can buy.

Delivery

Cajoo, a new French startup that raised a $7.3 million (€6 million) funding round, launched in Paris this week. The company's pitch: to make it easier to order groceries from your phone and receive them 15 minutes later. The company was founded by CEO Henri Capoul, who previously was at Bolt, along with Guillaume Luscan and Jeremy Gotteland. As Techcrunch's Romain Dillet reported, Cajoo wants to differentiate itself with a full-stack approach. The startup operates its own micro-fulfillment centers. It has its own inventory of products. It manages the fleet of delivery people as much as possible. And, of course, it sells directly to customers.

Electric

Audi revealed the 2022 e-tron Quattro GT and its higher-performing sibling the RS e-tron GT — flagships of the German automaker’s growing electric vehicle portfolio and its first departure from the crossovers and SUVs that have so far dominated the lineup.

Royal Dutch Shell Group laid out a five-pillar plan that outlines how it will survive in a zero-emission, climate-conscious world. The plan includes installing 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations; the continued development of hydrogen and natural gas assets while slashing oil production by 1% to 2% per year; a greater emphasis on lubricants, chemicals and biofuels; expanding its renewable energy generation portfolio and carbon offsets; and investing in carbon capture and storage. As TechCrunch climate editor Jon Shieber noted, Shell's plan to rollout 500,000 EV charger in just four years is the latest sign of an EV charging infrastructure boom that has prompted investors to pour cash into the industry and inspired a few companies to become public companies in search of the capital needed to meet demand.

Tesla has been in talks with a group of Chinese authorities, including the country's top market regulator, cyberspace watchdog and transportation authority, after consumers complained about acceleration irregularities, battery fires, software upgrade failures and other vehicle problems, according to a government notice posted late Monday.

Tesla said on microblogging platform Weibo that it "sincerely accepts the government departments' guidance" and will "strictly comply with Chinese laws." It will also work to strengthen its "internal operational structure and workflow" under the direction of the regulators in order to ensure safety and consumer rights. It's hard not to notice the differences in Tesla's tone between its dealings with China and the United States.

Toyota Motor North America said it will bring three new electrified vehicles to the U.S. market, as the automaker seeks to win over customers by offering a variety of lower emission and zero-emission cars and SUVs. Two of the new vehicles will be all-electric and one will be a plug-in hybrid, the company said Wednesday. Sales of the vehicles are expected to begin in 2022.

Flight

Aerion, which has been working on commercial supersonic flight for nearly a decade, signed a new partnership with NASA on supersonic point-to-point travel. The new collaboration comes via the Space Act Agreement, which allows NASA to enlist the aid of private companies to help it achieve its various goals.

Ride-hailing

Uber and Lyft lost a lot of money in 2020. As TechCrunch's Alex Wilhelm noted this week (sub required), that's not a surprise, considering the COVID-19 headwinds that caused many ride-hailing markets to freeze as demand fell. Wilhelm unpacked both companies' full-year earnings, which were reported this past week. Uber's revenue fell from $13 billion in 2019 to $11.1 billion in 2020. Lyft's fell from $3.6 billion in 2019 to a far-smaller $2.4 billion in 2020.

Using normal accounting rules (which we like here), Uber lost $6.77 billion in 2020, an improvement from its 2019 loss of $8.51 billion. However, if you lean on Uber’s definition of adjusted EBITDA, its 2019 and 2020 losses fall to $2.73 billion and $2.53 billion, respectively.

So what is this magic wand Uber is waving to make billions of dollars' worth of red ink go away? Answer: an adjusted EBITDA definition with 12 different categories of exclusion. Hey-o!

Wilhelm continues ... if investors get what Uber promises, they will get an unprofitable company at the end of 2021, albeit one that, if you strip out a dozen categories of expense, is no longer running in the red. This, from a company worth north of $112 billion, feels like a very small promise.

And yet Uber shares have quadrupled from their pandemic lows, during which they fell under the $15 mark. Today Uber is worth more than $60 per share, despite shrinking last year and projecting years of losses (real), and possibly some (fake) profits later in the year. Wild.

Check out the rest of his piece at Extra Crunch, which reveals some of the good news that came out of Uber's earnings as well as a dive into Lyft's results.