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The Station: Inside the infrastructure bill, Canoo makes a move and EVs in LA

·14-min read

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 readers: Welcome 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've been in Los Angeles this past week to meet up with startups, investors and of course, check out the LA Auto Show. So considering my busy schedule, I've handed the reins to Aria Alamalhodaei. See you next week.

As always, you can 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'

Let’s start the day off with a chortle. Last week’s Saturday Night Live featured an e-bike shout-out during the show’s “Weekend Update” news anchor skit.

“A new report shows that the fastest growing form of electric vehicle is the e-bike, which is particularly popular in cities,” said comedian Michael Che. “At this point, experts believe the only thing that can slow these bikes down are car doors.”

In only a few words, Che sums up the irony behind the growing popularity of e-bikes. Despite increased usage and modal shifts, cars unfortunately remain the kings of the concrete jungle -- at least until cities step up and prioritize more egalitarian, greener forms of transport.

While a deal to end car emissions by 2040 didn’t quite make it to light at COP26, a new report revealed that urban residents need to start making 40% of trips by foot, bike, micromobility or transit within the next 10 years or we won’t be able to reach our climate goals.

Some cities are making strides. A few cities in the U.S., like Oakland, Bakersfield and Pittsburgh, have started experimenting with “universal basic mobility” pilots that subsidize buses, e-scooters and e-bikes so people can more freely move about. The end goal is to usher in more economic activity to cities.

At CoMotion LA, an urban mobility conference, Spin announced it would be one of the micromobility companies to work with local community nonprofits in Bakersfield, like the Dream Center, to identify 100 eligible participants to receive access to free public transit, Spin e-scooters and e-bikes for a year. Bakersfield will be the third UBM pilot Spin is participating in.

During the event, Spin also announced a partnership with Blue Systems to provide a data dashboard to select U.S. cities aimed at boosting pedestrian safety and eliminating sidewalk riding and improper parking.

Fetch.ai, an AI lab with an open-access decentralized ML network for smart infrastructure, has partnered with Datarella, a blockchain company, to launch the MOBIX Micromobility Marketplace, a platform that will hopefully incentivize users through rewards to use micromobility services. MOBIX users can earn miles by recording micromobility trips, which can then be converted into tokens to be used on future trips or traded at crypto exchanges. Users anywhere can download the app on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Lime partnered with SafeUP, a community safety network offering guardians for women if they feel unsafe, to provide free rides on Lime scooters and bikes to SafeUP guardians in NYC, LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, Washington, DC, Austin and Tel Aviv.

Bird had its first public earnings call since becoming a public company via SPAC. The company’s revenues only slightly missed expectations, but the company boosted its guidance for the full-year 2021 period. It’s relying on an uptick in commuting and tourism, as well as an easing of supply chain constraints.

Australian startup Zoomo raised a $60 million Series B to expand its e-bike subscription service. The company offers e-bikes for gig workers or enterprise fleets, and wants to disrupt the last-mile delivery industry.

Zembo, a French startup with operations in Uganda selling e-motorcycles through a lease-to-own program, raised $3.4 million to begin scaling operations across Africa. It’s backed by Mobility 54, a corporate VC subsidiary of Toyota Tsusho Corp, which will leverage Toyota’s automotive footprint to help Zembo expand.

Superpedestrian is the latest micromobility operator to be featured on the Moovit app, following behind Lime, Spin and Bird. Now, Moovit users planning trips with the app will be able to find LINK scooters where available.

Lyft is expanding its partnership with Mastercard in the Bay Area to include bikeshare. Mastercard will help Bay Wheels, which is available on the Lyft app, build an additional 35 bikeshare stations next year.

Also in San Francisco, Scoot/Bird have teamed up with Scootaround to pilot an accessible mobility program in the city. Initially piloted in the Bronx, the program allows riders with disabilities to find, reserve and pay for one of three accessible vehicle types.

Tier bought Nextbike, a German bike-sharing platform, signaling both the company’s commitment to a multimodal approach and, perhaps, more micromobility consolidations in the future.

Electric scooter maker Niu has hinted it would be expanding its urban mobility portfolio at EICMA, or the Milan Motorcycle show, next week. This sounds like it could be a new type of vehicle, and Electrek is guessing it might be the company’s three-wheeled canopied scooter concept, which was revealed at CES 2020. Fingers crossed! The micromobility world really needs a solution for rainy days.

– Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station
money the station

Last week was all about Rivian's much-hyped IPO. This week I want to talk about Lucid Group, which completed its first quarter as a publicly traded company this week. It looks like its market cap now exceeds both Ford and General Motors, after a stock boost that added $17 billion to its valuation.

What comes next for the new EV entrant? Deliveries, according to investors during the earnings call, starting with its Lucid Air Dream Edition, followed by the Grand Touring, Touring and Air Pure. CEO Peter Rawlinson said he's confident the company will be able to manufacture 20,000 vehicles next year.

Meanwhile, reservations have reportedly increased to 17,000 -- up from around 13,000 at the end of the third quarter.

One other big deal — or more accurately, dead deal — to note this week: Ford CEO Jim Farley said Friday that the automaker has ended its planned vehicle collaboration with Rivian. The company still is a major shareholder of Rivian.

Deals that got our attention ...

Eatron raised $11 million to expand its technology platform that enables OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers to decouple auto software from its hardware. The Series A round was led by the U.K.’s MMC Ventures.

Helm.ai raised $26 million in Series B funding to scale the development of its ADAS and Level 4 driving software. JM Partners, Base Capital Funding and Freeman Group participated, with additional participation from Nicolas Berggruen, ACVC Partners, OneWay Ventures, Binnacle Partners, Nadia Asoyan, Vlad Tenev, Mark Leslie, Jeff Rothschild and Neil King.

Mangrove Lithium, a company that has developed a platform to produce battery-grade lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate, closed a $10 million Series A round led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

Merchants Fleet placed an order with General Motors' BrightDrop electric delivery unit for 5,400 EV410 vans. That brings the company's total order to 18,000 vehicles, including its previous commitment to purchase 12,600 of BrightDrop’s flagship EV600 van.

Mitra Chem raised a $20 million Series A to boost the North American battery supply chain industry that’s currently dominated by China, by producing an iron-based cathode for non-Chinese applications.

Nexar, a company best known for its line of smart dash cams, raised $53 million in new financing to scale its “digital twin” service built off crowdsourced dash cam footage for automotive OEMs and cities.

PreAct Technologies, a company that develops sensing technology for automotive applications, raised $13 million in Series A funding led by State Farm Ventures.

Sono Group, the parent company of Sono Motors, went public this week, with shares hitting a high of $38.74 before the market closed. Sono Motors is developing a solar electric vehicle that it says will reach consumers by the first half of 2023.

Swvl is acquiring a controlling interest in Viapool, a transit platform operating in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile. It's the latest sign that the company is expanding its reach in Latin America. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of next year.

Zoomo raised $60 million in Series B financing to expand its last-mile electric delivery services, which include both fleet offerings and subscriptions for couriers and delivery workers.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery
the-station-delivery

Hello everyone! Welcome back to Policy Corner.

The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill contains a whole slew of new provisions and funds that target vehicles. Big budgets for things like EV charging and electric school buses have been the most headline-grabbing, but they’re far from the only significant provisions included in the legislation.

The infrastructure bill is also taking aim at driver safety. Besides introducing provisions to include anti-drunk driving tech in new vehicles, the legislation also opened the door for adaptive headlights to come to the U.S. Within 24 months, the Secretary of Transportation will be required to revise the regulations around headlights "to allow for the use on vehicles of adaptive driving beam headlamp systems." That means that soon, headlights in America won’t have just two modes -- bright and super-bright -- but instead will be able to dynamically respond to the environment and adjust brightness and beam lighting accordingly.

The bill also authorizes the transportation secretary to determine when to mandate tech like automated emergency braking, lane-assist and forward-collision warnings. Read: when, not if. That means these features will soon be available in all new cars. Cars may also need to be equipped with rear seat occupancy warnings that would go off to prevent a pet or child being left in the backseat.

Other news that caught my attention this week...

The New York City Council is considering a bill that would require the Taxi and Limousine Commission to create a set of rules relating to the licensing and use of autonomous vehicles as taxis. Looks like the state is trying to be proactive about this tech.

Self-Driving Coalition is drawing a line in the sand: it wants policymakers, journalists (hello!) and other stakeholders to clearly distinguish between autonomous driving systems and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). The group has long insisted -- rightly, in our opinion -- that conflation of the two technologies could lead to drivers misusing ADAS and not fully understanding its capabilities and limitations.

The California Energy Commission approved a staggering $1.4 billion plan to boost the adoption of electric vehicles, with nearly 80% of the money earmarked for EV charging and hydrogen refueling stations. Notably, the majority of that is dedicated to medium- and heavy-duty infrastructure -- chargers for things like buses, school buses and trucks.

Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable news and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Apple is reportedly making moves to develop its electric car, and it’s planning to make it autonomous, as well. The "fluid" plan is to have the car ready to go by 2025, but Apple’s already had a range of setbacks with this car and it declined to comment on the news.

Baidu reckons it has the largest robotaxi service in the world, based on its 115,000 rides. The service, Apollo Go, aims to be in 65 cities by 2025 and 100 cities by 2030, the firm’s CEO Robin Li said during an earnings call.

Baraja has released a lidar system that it says is ready for "Level 4 autonomy at scale." Spectrum HD will cost under $1,000 and will be available for sampling next year.

Honda is moving forward with an off-road autonomous work vehicle, which it’s testing at a solar panel construction site. The vehicles can tow trailers of up to 1,653 pounds and carry construction materials of up to 880 pounds across the 1,000 acre worksite.

Pony.ai restructured its passenger car and autonomous trucking R&D units in September, and TechCrunch has since learned a few key executives left after, at least one of whom think the different use cases of urban driving and highway driving should have separate product teams. Two of the employees left to start their own L4 trucking business. Sources have confirmed to TechCrunch that Pony’s autonomous trucking operations in the States have been suspended, but the company is still testing in China.

Qualcomm is collaborating with BMW Group to design and develop BMW's next-gen ADAS and autonomous systems stack.

REE Automotive has come up with a fully autonomous concept vehicle based on a brand new ultra-modular EV platform design. The concept is geared for last-mile autonomous and electric delivery companies, fleet operators, e-retailers and tech companies looking to build fully autonomous solutions.

Electric vehicles

The Los Angeles Auto Show was this week, so let’s start with some of the top automaker reveals:

Biliti Electric announced at the event that it wanted to bring its electric tuk tuks to the U.S. market. The three-wheeled, open-cabin, electric delivery vehicles are already being used in Asia and Europe, and might be an answer to last- or middle-mile delivery in the U.S.

Fisker’s all-electric Ocean SUV debuts with a rotating screen, one of manufacturer Foxconn’s obvious touches. Fisker’s first EV will have a 17.1 inch central screen that can rotate from portrait to landscape mode depending on whether the driver is using GPS or just chilling and watching movies in the car.

Hyundai launched its Hyundai SEVEN Concept vehicle, featuring a “hygienic” interior, because ew, COVID. The concept is built on Hyundai’s Electric Global Modular Platform, which is the same platform as the Ioniq 5, and features lounge-like interiors with swiveling seats and a whole bunch of hygienic bits and bobs. For example, a hygiene air flow system for tailored airflow and a UVC sterilization cycle.

Porsche unveiled the Taycan GTS sedan and a third body style called Taycan GTS Sport Turismo, rounding out the Taycan vehicle portfolio, which the company has invested more than $1 billion in developing.

Subaru revealed its first all-electric crossover, the 2023 Subaru Solterra. The crossover is a sign Subaru is catering to the American audience and trying to get a foothold into the EV market.

The new Subaru’s doppelgänger, the Toyota bZ4X, was also revealed at the LA Auto Show. It’s the first EV under Toyota’s bZ brand, and it should come to the U.S. in mid-2022 with an estimated range of up to 250 miles.

In other EV news…

Canoo announced plans to establish its HQ and an advanced manufacturing industrialized facility in Bentonville, Arkansas. (Do we detect a future deal with Walmart?). During the company’s Q3 earnings call, Canoo said it’s getting close to producing vehicles on its gamma platform. The company also announced Panasonic as its battery supplier and plans to establish tech hubs in Tulsa and Fayetteville.

Luxury EV startup Lucid Group completed its first quarter as a public company after merging with Churchill Capital IV Corp in July. The company shared it has already garnered 17,000 reservations for EVs since the end of the third quarter.

Misc.

Caribou is partnering with Uber to bring its auto refinancing process to the ridesharing giant's drivers that have access to the UberPro app.

DoorDash has launched a new business arm it's calling DoorDash Labs, focused on robotics and automation. The company has brought on Ashu Rege, a former senior VP at Zoox, to lead as VP of Autonomy.

Joanna Wu, a longtime LinkedIn executive, is moving to Uber. Wu, who has decades of experience in user experience and product design, led the complete redesign of LinkedIn's website and app. She'll be starting in January as Uber's VP of product design.

Jupiter Research estimates that in-vehicle transaction volumes will exceed a staggering $4.7 billion by 2026 -- a growth of 5,300% in the next 5 years, according to its new report.

Zipline launched its commercial service in the U.S. this week, using its autonomous aircraft to make deliveries in northwest Arkansas on behalf of Walmart.

– Rebecca Bellan

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