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

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

Before we get to the rest of the news, here’s a crypto-meets-transportation story for you.

Just weeks after Tesla CEO Elon Musk and CFO Zach Kirkhorn stated their belief in bitcoin’s long-term viability, the company has reversed its position. Musk, who has dubbed himself Technoking, tweeted that Tesla has suspended cryptocurrency purchases of its electric vehicles due to concerns about the rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels (particularly coal) for bitcoin mining and transactions.

The price of bitcoin fell as a result of Musk’s tweet. But wait, the crazy antics had only just begun. While bitcoin was out, Musk’s tweet made it clear that other cryptocurrencies were in. “We are also looking at other cryptocurrencies that use 1% of Bitcoin’s energy/transaction,” according to the tweet. Anyone who has followed Musk’s support for Dogecoin could have predicted what happened next. Musk tweeted on May 13th, “Working with Doge devs to improve system transaction efficiency.” Possibly promising.”

That’s all there is to it. Perhaps Dogecoin, which Musk jokingly referred to as a hustle on SNL, will soon be Tesla’s cryptocurrency 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 this week is that Bird, the shared electric scooter startup that operates in over 200 cities across three continents, is going public via a SPAC. Bird is merging with blank-check company Switchback II in an attempt to raise cash quickly and achieve profitability by 2023, according to dot.LA, which obtained Bird’s investor pitch deck.

The deal’s $160 million in private investment in public equity will be led by Fidelity Management & Research Company, with Apollo Investment Corp. and MidCap Financial Trust contributing another $40 million in asset financing.

According to the SPAC deck, Bird lost $387.5 million in 2019 and $208.2 million in 2020, despite laying off 400 people in 2020. Bird desperately needs this deal to work because it has a massive cost structure and unprofitable revenue, which has become even more unprofitable as the pandemic has taken its toll. Changing business models could be the answer. Purchasing scooter fleets and deploying them around the world is simply too expensive. During the pandemic, its decision to “franchise” and allow other smaller companies to build fleets under its brand name generated 94 percent of its “sharing” revenue in the second half of 2020. So perhaps there is still hope for the company. It will undoubtedly require it if it is to continue its expansion into Europe in the coming years.

Speaking of expansion …

Neuron Mobility, the Singapore-based e-scooter sharing company that has taken off in Australia and New Zealand, has announced plans to expand its reach even further into the Commonwealth. According to the company, Neuron recently won a contract to operate in Ottawa, so it will be heading to Canada in the coming month, with more cities in the country to follow. The company will provide eligible Public Health and Emergency Service workers in Canada’s capital with free monthly passes.

Meanwhile in Africa

SafeBoda, a Uganda-based two-wheel ride-hailing platform, announced that it had completed one million rides in Ibadan, Nigeria. Boda-bodas in Uganda and okadas in Nigeria are local motorcycle taxis, so SafeBoda is disrupting this offline market while also outpacing the big guns like uberBODA and Bolt boda. Given the money and reputation behind Uber and Bolt, it’s both surprising and encouraging to see SafeBoda outperforming its competitors. In Uganda, the company completes approximately 80,000 rides per day, whereas Uber and Bolt only complete approximately 10,000 rides.

New product roundup

Stromer’s new e-bike, the ST2 S-Pedelec, costs a hefty $5,699, but it packs some serious punch. With a 750-watt rear-wheel CYRO motor and a 618kWh battery, it has a top speed of 28 mph and a range of 75 miles. If the bike is stolen, the 3G and Bluetooth connection will protect you with GPS localization and Smartlock. It is also available in royal blue or dark grey frames with sport or comfort frames.

Razor scooter, the iconic silver fold-up legends of the early 2000s, has unveiled its new RipStik Rush, the electric RipStik 2.0. According to the company, 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. This summer, Razor will also release their C25 e-scooter, which is aimed more at the daily commuter.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

We saw nearly two dozen transportation startups go public last year through mergers with special purpose acquisition companies. The majority of them were electric vehicle and lidar firms. Other transportation-related startups, such as autonomous trucking startup TuSimple and now Plus AI, have emerged this year.

Plus announced this week plans to merge with Hennessy Capital Investment Corp. V in a transaction valued at $3.3 billion post-merger. Plus is expected to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “PLAV.” The transaction is backed by $150 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, from BlackRock and the D. E. Shaw Group funds and accounts.

The capital raised from the public market, according to the company, will enable it to begin mass production of its so-called PlusDrive autonomous vehicle platform with heavy-truck manufacturer FAW in 2021. Plus is also collaborating with IVECO to develop autonomous trucks that will be deployed in China, Europe, and other regions, according to the company.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Clarios, the Wisconsin-based battery manufacturer, which was acquired by Brookfield Asset Management in 2019, according to Bloomberg, has filed for an IPO on a confidential basis. According to reports, Brookfield is looking 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 funds bring the company’s total investment to more than $100 million. As TechCrunch’s Rita Liao points out, this is not a small sum, but the startup is competing with much larger players that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, such as Velodyne and Luminar. Temasek, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, led the latest round of funding for Innovusion. Bertelsmann Asia Investment Fund, Joy Capital, Nio Capital, Eight Roads Ventures, and F-Prime Capital were among the other investors.

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 gave the Southeast Asian firm a $150 million check. The news comes as Gojek works to finalize a proposed merger with e-commerce platform Tokopedia. According to media reports, the $18 billion transaction would create a new entity called GoTo. Telkomsel’s investment today places it among 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 disclose other than that it is in the “hundreds of millions”, comes four months after the company raised $310 million in its Series B round. WeRide plans to use this round of funding to invest in R&D and commercialization as it works toward the next generation of Level 4 driving, which means a vehicle can drive without human intervention in certain environments and conditions. The funds will also be used to prepare the company’s technology for commercialization.

Waymo: Executive exits and construction cones

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Waymo’s public relations team had a very busy week.

The first is a piece I wrote about the departures of Waymo’s chief financial officer, Ger Dwyer, and its head of automotive partnerships and corporate development, Adam Frost, both of whom had been with the company for a long time.

Following CEO John Krafcik’s departure earlier this year, there has been some executive reshuffling. Krafcik announced his resignation as CEO in April. Deborah Hersman, Waymo’s Chief Safety Officer, left in December, and Tim Willis, head of manufacturing and global supply and general manager of Waymo’s Laser Bear lidar business, left in February. Sherry House, Waymo’s treasurer and head of investor relations since 2017, left the company in April. She is now the Chief Financial Officer at Lucid Motors.

As I mentioned in my article, some of the critical leaders, as well as those directly beneath them, have remained. Waymo’s co-CEOs are Tekedra Mawakana, the former COO, and Dmitri Dolgov, the former CTO. According to LinkedIn profiles, department heads directly below Mawakana and Dolgov are still at Waymo, with a few exceptions. David Twohig, Waymo’s director of Future Automotive, and Qi Hommes, the company’s former head of system safety, both left in March. According to LinkedIn, Hommes is now the director of system safety engineering and analysis at Zoox.

Changes at the top frequently result in a cascade of reshuffled positions and even exits. More to come in the coming weeks and months.

Meanwhile, 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, released a video. This person documented the entire trip, which devolved into a less-than-ideal situation when the vehicle entered a work zone with construction cones. The vehicle became disoriented and, in effect, paralyzed. Waymo then intervened remotely to send path planning instructions, but sent incorrect guidance, exacerbating the problem. Eventually, a roadside assistance team arrived and completed the journey.

The incident serves as a reminder of how much work remains to be done in the field of autonomous vehicles. It also shows how many people are required to support one driverless vehicle on the road. Expect more incidents like this to occur throughout the industry. On a related note, rival Cruise shared a video of its vehicle navigating a construction zone. I’m sure the timing was just a coincidence.

Notable reads and other tidbits

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.