The Station: Exits at Waymo and Bird's SPAC reveals its scooter-nomics

·21 min read

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Hello and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.

Here's a crypto-meets-transportation story for you before we move on to the rest of the news.

Just weeks after Tesla CEO Elon Musk and CFO Zach Kirkhorn said they believe in the longevity of bitcoin, the company has changed its stance. Musk, who has dubbed himself Technoking, tweeted that Tesla has suspended purchases of its electric vehicles with the cryptocurrency because of its concern about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels (especially coal) for bitcoin mining and transactions.

The tweet from Musk sent the price of bitcoin down. Ah, but wait, the crazy hijinks were just getting started. Musk's tweet was clear that while bitcoin was out, other cryptocurrencies were in. "We are also looking at other cryptocurrencies that use <1% of Bitcoin's energy/transaction," the tweet said. Anyone who has followed Musk's cheerleading of Dogecoin could have predicted what would come next. On May 13, Musk tweeted "Working with Doge devs to improve system transaction efficiency. Potentially promising."

So there you have it. Perhaps, Dogecoin — which Musk jokingly called a hustle on SNL — will soon be Tesla's crypto of choice.

My email inbox is always open. 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 big micromobility news of the past week is that Bird, the shared electric scooter startup that's scootin' around in more than 200 cities across three continents, is going public via a SPAC. Bird is merging with blank-check company Switchback II in an attempt to get cash fast and achieve profitability by 2023, confirming earlier reports from dot.LA after the website had gotten its hands on Bird's investor pitch deck.

Fidelity Management & Research Company will lead the deal's $160 million in private investment in public equity, with Apollo Investment Corp. and MidCap Financial Trust chucking in another $40 million in asset financing.

The SPAC deck reveals that Bird lost $387.5 million in 2019 and $208.2 million in 2020, even as it laid off 400 people in 2020. As a company with a huge cost structure and unprofitable revenue, which was made more unprofitable as the pandemic took its toll, Bird really needs this deal to work. Shifting business models may be just the thing. Buying up scooter fleets and deploying them around the world is simply too costly to work. Its move to go "franchise" and get other smaller companies to build fleets under its brand name during the pandemic generated 94% of its "sharing" revenue in the second half of 2020. So maybe there's hope for the company after all. It'll certainly need it if it intends to sustain its expansion into Europe in the coming years.

Speaking of expansion ...

Singapore's Neuron Mobility, the e-scooter sharing company that's taken off in Australia and New Zealand, has announced plans to expand its reach deeper into the Commonwealth. Neuron recently won a contract to operate in Ottawa, so it'll be heading to Canada in the coming month, with more cities in the country to come, according to the company. The company will give out free monthly passes to eligible Public Health and Emergency Service workers in the Canadian capital.

Meanwhile in Africa

Uganda-based, two-wheel ride-hailing platform SafeBoda announced that it had completed 1 million rides in the Nigerian city of Ibadan. For reference, boda-bodas in Uganda, or okadas in Nigeria, are local motorcycle taxis, so SafeBoda is disrupting this offline market while also leading ahead of the big guns like uberBODA and Bolt boda. Given the money and reputation behind Uber and Bolt, it's somewhat surprising, and heartening, to see SafeBoda outstripping its competition. The company completes about 80,000 rides a day in Uganda; Uber and Bolt only complete about 10,000 rides in the country.

New product roundup

Stromer's new e-bike, the ST2 S-Pedelec, comes at a steep price of $5,699, but it's got some serious power behind it. With a 750-watt rear-wheel CYRO motor and a 618kWh battery, it can go up to 28 mph and up to 75 miles in range. If someone steals the bike, 3G and Bluetooth connection has got you covered with GPS localization and Smartlock. And it comes in sport or comfort frames in royal blue or dark grey.

Razor scooter, those iconic early 2000s silver fold-up legends, has unveiled its new RipStik Rush, the electric RipStik 2.0. Sportier riders who like to flex their moves will love this scooter because the back end of the board allows you to fishtail, carve and drift like you would with a snowboard or wakeboard, according to the company. Razor will also be bringing their C25 e-scooter, which is more geared toward the daily commuter, to retail this summer.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station
money the station

Last year, we saw nearly two dozen transportation startups go public via a merger with special purpose acquisition companies. Most of those were electric vehicle and lidar companies. This year, we are starting to see other transportation-related companies, including autonomous trucking startup TuSimple and now Plus AI.

Plus announced this week plans to merge with Hennessy Capital Investment Corp. V in a transaction with a post-combination valuation of $3.3 billion. Plus is expected to trade on the NYSE under the ticker symbol "PLAV." The transaction is supported by $150 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, from funds and accounts managed by BlackRock and the D. E. Shaw Group.

The company said the capital provided by the public market will help it begin mass production of its so-called PlusDrive autonomous vehicle platform in 2021 with heavy-truck manufacturer FAW. Plus is also working with IVECO to jointly develop autonomous trucks that will be deployed across China, Europe and other geographies, the company said.

Other deals that got my attention this week ...

Clarios, the Wisconsin-based battery maker that was acquired by Brookfield Asset Management in 2019, filed confidentially for an IPO, Bloomberg reported. Brookfield reportedly is seeking to have the portfolio company valued at more than $20 billion in an IPO.

ForU Worldwide, the Chinese freight-as-a-service transportation platform, filed for a $100 million IPO.

Innovusion, a five-year-old lidar company and a supplier to Chinese electric car upstart Nio, just landed a Series B funding round of $64 million. The new proceeds boost its total investment to more than $100 million. As TechCrunch's Rita Liao notes, this is not a small amount, but the startup is in a race crowded with much bigger players that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, like Velodyne and Luminar. Temasek, the Singaporean government's sovereign wealth fund, led Innovusion's latest financing round. Other investors included Bertelsmann Asia Investment Fund, Joy Capital, Nio Capital, Eight Roads Ventures and F-Prime Capital.

Telkomsel, a unit of Indonesia's largest telecom operator Telkom, invested an additional $300 million in ride-hailing and payments firm Gojek. The investment comes just months after the network provider wrote a $150 million check to the Southeast Asian firm. The announcement comes amid Gojek working to seal a proposed merger with e-commerce platform Tokopedia. The $18 billion deal would result in a new entity called GoTo, according to media reports. Telkomsel's investment today likely makes it one of GoTo's top eight investors.

WeRide, the Chinese autonomous driving company, said it has achieved its Series C funding round that brings its post-money valuation to $3 billion. The round, which WeRide declined to provide details on beyond saying that it is in "the hundreds of millions," comes four months after securing Series B fundraising of $310 million. WeRide intends to use this funding round to invest in R&D and commercialization as it works toward the next-generation of Level 4 driving, a term that means a vehicle can drive without human intervention in some environments and conditions. The company is also using the funds to prepare to commercialize its technology.

Waymo: Executive exits and construction cones

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Waymo's PR team most certainly had a busy week.

First up is an article from me on the departure of Waymo's chief financial officer Ger Dwyer and its head of automotive partnerships and corporate development Adam Frost -- two longtime executives at the autonomous vehicle company.

The exits come amid some executive shuffling following CEO John Krafcik's exit earlier this year. Krafcik announced in April that he was stepping down as CEO. Chief Safety Officer Deborah Hersman left in December and Tim Willis, who was head of manufacturing and global supply and general manager of Waymo's Laser Bear lidar business, departed in February. Sherry House, who had been at Waymo since 2017 and was most recently treasurer and head of investor relations, left the company in April. She is now CFO at Lucid Motors.

As I noted in my article, some of the critical leaders, and the people directly below them, have remained. Tekedra Mawakana, who was COO, and Dmitri Dolgov, the CTO, are now co-CEOs of Waymo. Department heads directly below Mawakana and Dolgov are still at Waymo, with a few exceptions, according to LinkedIn profiles. In March, both David Twohig, who was director of Future Automotive at Waymo, and Qi Hommes, who was once head of system safety, left. Hommes is now director of system safety engineering and analysis at Zoox, according to LinkedIn.

Changes at the top oftentimes cause a ripple effect of shuffling positions and even exits. Expect more in the weeks and months to come.

Meanwhile, a video was released by a regular user of the company's Waymo One ride-hailing service, which uses a mix of driverless vehicles and those with a safety operator behind the wheel. This individual captured the entire trip, which devolved into a suboptimal situation when the vehicle entered into a work zone with construction cones. The vehicle became confused and essentially paralyzed. Waymo then stepped in remotely to send path planning instructions, but then sent incorrect guidance, which compounded the problem. Eventually, a roadside assistance team physically arrived and completed the trip.

The incident is a reminder of how much work still needs to be done in autonomous vehicles. It also illustrates just how many humans it takes to support one driverless vehicle on the road. Expect more incidents like this across the industry. On a side note, rival Cruise tweeted out a video showing its vehicle navigating a construction zone. I'm sure the timing was completely coincidental.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery
the-station-delivery

I'm back with more policy news. This week, let's kick things off with the U.S. Postal Service.

You might remember that in February, the U.S. Postal Service awarded a multibillion-dollar contract to OshKosh Corp. to replace between 50,000 to 165,000 aging trucks with a mix of diesel and electric powertrain delivery vehicles over the next 10 years. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy later specified to Congress that only around 10% of those new delivery trucks would be electric, a number that many in Washington and beyond argued was not high enough.

"The lack of commitment from the USPS to electrify its fleet directly contradicts the Biden administration's goals and executive order to clean up pollution from the U.S. government's vehicles," said Gina Coplon-Newfield, the director of the Sierra Club's Clean Transportation for All campaign.

Now, House lawmakers are advancing a bill that would, in part, authorize an additional $8 billion for the U.S. Postal Service to switch to electric vehicles. The language adding the funds was tacked onto a bill to improve mailed ballot tracking. Given that President Joe Biden said back in January that he is committed to replacing the federal government's fleet of around 650,000 vehicles with electric models, it was definitely more than a little odd that USPS picked a mixed diesel-electric bid less than one month later.

Meanwhile, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee vetoed a section of a bill that would have phased out the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles starting from model year 2030. This would have been the first time a state mandated all-electric auto sales via legislation, instead of executive order. Of states that have ICE phase-outs in place -- California and Massachusetts -- both were established via orders signed by their respective governors and start in 2035.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

the station autonomous vehicles1
the station autonomous vehicles1

Autonomous vehicles

Volkswagen Group and Argo AI, which is supplying the company with a self-driving system that will allow it to commercially transport people and goods by 2025, provided an update this past week. Much of the briefing covered old ground. But there were a few new details, notably that testing will begin on European roads later this year, which builds on initial work completed at a test track that was established next to the Munich airport.

In-car tech

Ford Motor is beefing up its in-vehicle software offerings with built-in Alexa voice assistant and a wireless software update ecosystem. Ford's over-the-air software updates, which it has branded Power-Up, will have the capability of updating "virtually all" of the computer modules in new Ford vehicles, not just the ones that focus on infotainment, the company said in a statement Thursday. Ford estimates that Power-Up will be able to update more than 80 computer modules on higher-end models. The automaker aims to manufacture 33 million vehicles equipped with this service and Alexa by 2028.

Delivery

The Information's Paris Martineau spent five months investigating Amazon and the more than 50 serious crashes involving its semi-trucks used over the last three years.

Electric vehicles

Arrival, Canoo, Fisker, Lordstown Motors and Nikola Corp were flying high when they went public through mergers with special purpose acquisition companies. A Bloomberg report found these five companies were worth $60 billion when they first went public. But the last few months have delivered some harsh lessons. Three of the companies plunged to new lows this week as short-seller attacks, management turmoil and execution issues led investors to reconsider their prospects. They've lost more than $40 billion of market capitalization combined from their respective peaks.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom debuted a new proposal that earmarks $3.2 billion to boost EV infrastructure and adoption in the state. Under the proposal, more than half of the $3.2 billion budget would go toward replacing 1,150 trucks, 1,000 transit buses and 1,000 school buses with electric models. Another $800 million would be put toward the state's Clean Cars 4 All program, which aims to help lower-income drivers upgrade to a zero- or near-zero car, as well as further rebates or clean vehicles. The proposal earmarks $500 million toward infrastructure and $250 million would go toward manufacturing grants. Newsom did not specify what type of infrastructure programs would qualify; it's likely those funds would go toward charging.

Fisker signed an agreement with Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that assembles iPhones, to co-develop and manufacture a new electric vehicle. Production on the car, which will be sold under the Fisker brand name in North America, Europe, China and India, will begin in the U.S. by the end of 2023.

Ford and BMW have each appointed members to the board of Solid Power, the solid state battery company that recently raised $130 million in a Series B round. Ford picked Ted Miller, manager of electrification subsystems and power supply research, and BMW chose Rainer Feurer, a senior vice president of corporate investments.

Ford also confirmed this week that its all-electric pickup truck will be named the F-150 Lightning, resurrecting a name that once donned the SVT F-150 in the 1990s. The company hasn't said much about the powertrain, range or other specs. However, Ford President and CEO Jim Farley provided new details about the electric pickup that is coming to market next year. Most notably, it seems that the battery on the Ford F-150 Lightning will have the ability to power a home during an outage. Ford has touted the capability of its Hybrid F-150 to power a job site or tools, but this is the first time the company has said one of its vehicles could act as a backup generator to a home.

Harley-Davidson has spun out its LiveWire electric motorcycle as a standalone brand, complete with a new logo and brand identity. The company first unveiled the LiveWire electric motorcycle in 2018 with a listing price of $29,799, placing it on the higher end for motorcycles. It went into production the following year, with some bumps, including a brief halt to production due to a charging-related problem on one of the motorcycles. The "first LiveWire-branded motorcycle" will launch on July 8. Its public debut will come a day later at the International Motorcycle Show.

Hyundai Motor Group said it will invest $7.4 billion in the U.S. by 2025 — money that will be used to produce future electric vehicles, improve production facilities and develop what the automaker describes as smart mobility solutions. The company is also going to invest in improving electrification and hydrogen energy.

Subaru announced new details about its first-ever EV, which is set to hit the market in 2022. Subaru will call its first EV the Solterra, a fitting name for a brand synonymous with outdoor adventures and you know, the sun and the Earth. Subaru's first full-fledged EV will be an SUV that ships with the manufacturer's well-regarded all-wheel-drive capabilities. The Solterra is built on a new platform the company is developing in partnership with Toyota, which the latter company will use for its bZ4X crossover.

Ultium Cells LLC, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Chem, has executed an agreement with Canadian company Li-Cycle to recycle critical materials from the scrap produced from Ultium's manufacturing processes from its Lordstown plant, starting later in 2021. The materials from the Lordstown location will be sent to Li-Cycle's recycling location in Rochester, New York, to be processed and returned to the battery supply chain.

Hydrogen

Toyota tapped Japanese company ENEOS to help develop the hydrogen fuel cell system that will power its futuristic prototype city Woven City. The vision for the 175-acre city, where people will live and work amongst all of Toyota's projects, including its autonomous e-Palette shuttles and robots, is to build a fully connected ecosystem powered by hydrogen fuel cells. ENEOS, a Japanese petroleum company that's investing heavily into hydrogen, will help make Toyota's "human-centered" city of the future. This new partnership not only signifies Toyota's backing of hydrogen over electric, but it also could help Japan achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Studies

Global consulting firm AlixPartners forecasts that the ongoing semiconductor shortage will cost automakers globally $110 billion in lost revenues this year, up from the firm's estimate in late January of $61 billion. In total, the firm is now forecasting that production of 3.9 million vehicles in total will be lost in 2021. The pandemic-induced shortage has been compounded by a fire in a key chip-making fabrication plant, severe weather in Texas and a drought in Taiwan, according to Mark Wakefield, global co-leader of the automotive and industrial practice at AlixPartners.

This problem isn't going away either. There are up to 1,400 chips in a typical vehicle today. The rise in consumer electronics, which the majority of the chip supply goes toward, continues to put pressure on the automotive industry. There has always been a need for supply chain resiliency. But now, there is a broader push from the industry and governments to shore up the supply chain for the long term.

Nexar, a company that makes an AI-based dashcam app to monitor road safety, put 36 vehicles on the streets of Milan in February. While driving around, the company collected images from dash cams and AI to map on-street parking spots and documented 262,163 free street parking spots in a month. This interesting nugget of information is part of a wider study conducted by Nexar to better understand how curbsides are used.

Nexar said the free parking spot identification along with the creation of a crowd-sourced map of such data was accomplished using vision (and specifically car camera vision). One of the goals, the company said, was to demonstrate that vision data can replicate the human understanding of what a parking spot is.

Events and opportunities

There are a number of events coming up — and not just TC Sessions: Mobility 2021.

Ford Motor will hosts its Capital Markets Day on May 26. A webcast will open at 9:15 a.m. EDT and the event will start promptly at 9:30 a.m. EDT. After the presentation, CEO Jim Farley and CFO John Lawler along with other Ford executives will host a question-and-answer session with the analyst community. You can check it out here.

The Petersen Automotive Museum is launching a new three-month incubator program that is focused on women-led businesses in the automotive sector. Each year, the museum will choose one California-based startup with five or fewer employees and provide them with hands-on mentorship, access to the Petersen network of sponsors and partners and a $25,000 to $30,000 investment. Applications are reviewed by the program's selection committee. Once accepted, the startup will work alongside the Petersen's mentorship team to develop a custom program that addresses its business goals. Applications are being accepted now through July 31, 2021. Click here to apply.

Self Racing Cars is scheduled for October 16 to 17, 2021 at Thunderhill Raceway. If you're not familiar, the event is organized each year by Joshua Schachter. The event is an autonomous racing series that has a hobbyist-maker vibe. It's as much about tinkering and troubleshooting as it is about going around the track.

While there are different teams, it is a decidedly collaborative environment. I'll never forget the first year that Schachter hosted the event. It was here that I first met and befriended Alex Roy, now one of my co-hosts on the Autonocast podcast. It's where George Hotz of Comma.ai finally got his vehicle around the track (Alex and I in the backseat) and won the competition. And it was where I was introduced to a young and then unknown guy named Austin Russell who was working in stealth on what we would all eventually learn was a lidar company called Luminar.

Check the website for more information and to sign up to participate. Right now, it looks like Nvidia is signed up and that list will likely grow in the coming months. And I hope to see you all there in the fall.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021! The June 9 event is right around the corner and I hope you'll all be there. The agenda is packed for this one-day virtual event. You can check out the agenda here.

A few highlights:

We'll have a panel on self-driving deliveries with Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO and CTO Ahti Heinla, Amy Jones Satrom, who heads operations at Nuro and Gatik co-founder and CTO Apeksha Kumavat. We'll have one-on-one interviews with Pam Fletcher, who is leading innovation efforts at GM, as well as Rimac Automobili founder and CEO Mate Rimac, Scale AI co-founder and CEO Alex Wang and Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

We'll have investors, of course, including one panel with Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital. Then there's investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose SPAC merged with Joby Aviation. Hoffman and Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt will come together to talk about what lies ahead. We also plan to bring together community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig to talk about equity, accessibility and shared mobility in cities.

One other panel we haven't promoted yet will focus on China and robotaxis. The panel is bringing together Jennifer Li, vice president of finance at WeRide, Jewel Li who is COO of AutoX and Huan Sun, who heads up Momenta Europe. These executives, from three leading Chinese robotaxi companies (that also have operations in Europe or the U.S.), will join us to provide insight into the unique challenges of developing and deploying the technology in China and how it compares to other countries.

And there is more. Have a question for any of these folks? Email me; I want to hear from you! And remember, some of the panels will have a live question-and-answer period.

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