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’ll be taking over this week because your usual host, Kirsten Korosec, is busy doing Kirsten things. (Kirsten here to say ‘yes, I sure am, although I do have a little item below.’)
If you have any thoughts, criticisms, tips or opinions you’d like to share, you can email me at email@example.com.
The biggest micromobility news from the past week is that Ford-owned Spin laid off a quarter of its staff and is preparing to exit all open-permit markets around the world. The company will wind down operations in some U.S. markets, Germany and Portugal and is projected to close in Spain as early as February 2022. In a blog post CEO Ben Bear said this strategy would help accelerate the company’s path to profitability, as “open permit market dynamics have made it difficult to identify a clear path to profitability.”
I can’t say I didn’t see something like this coming. Back in June, I wrote about how Spin was shifting its strategy to angle for more exclusive partnerships with cities and campuses. This came as Bear took over as CEO and amid reports that Ford might be divesting Spin. Ford told TechCrunch it is still committed to helping the micromobility company on its path to profitability.
Whether Bear knew all along that this strategy would require closing down operations in certain markets is unclear. Back in June, he told me Spin was “full speed ahead on the hiring front” with ambitious growth plans. Perhaps Spin was just hoping cities would align with the company’s strategy and start moving towards limited vendor permits. That trend might be true in mid-tier cities, which are just as important to convert to micromobility as the big dogs, so here’s hoping Spin’s strategy turns out alright in the end.
Micromobilty World 2022
This week was also Micromobility World 2022, an event for micromobility lovers around the world, including yours truly, to talk about all things related to the space. Here are just a few of the many highlights:
I spoke to Horace Luke, CEO of Gogoro, about how Gogoro has dominated Taiwan, why it’s so important to make charging easy and fast through battery swapping to increase adoption of micro-electric vehicles and why partnering with local businesses is key to expanding into new markets quicker.
Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden talked to Horace Dediu about how Bird wants to continue the micromobility momentum started by the pandemic by focusing on climate change and congestion in cities, how to create main market adoption by showing cities that people are willing and ready to get out of cars and potential plans to create new form factors for the bike lane.
Caroline Samponaro, VP of micromobility at Lyft, spoke to The Verge’s Andrew Hawkins about public-private partnerships in micromobility. Samponaro spoke about how Lyft’s docked bikeshares have contributed to the public transit ecosystem by being reliably stationed, and she talked about the challenges of running a shared business, like the need for exclusivity with a city (such as CitiBike kind of has with NYC) and cost-prohibitive insurance obligations. Samponaro said that cities needed to work on their systemic vehicle-centric mindset, and she spoke of the importance of the bike and scooter working together.
In other news …
EV maker Rivian has filed a trademark to produce electric bikes. The company wouldn’t tell TechCrunch anything else about the matter, but Rivian wouldn’t be the only OEM to recognize the micromobility trend and try to get on board.
Lime is finally launching its new Gen4 e-bike, starting in Washington, D.C. The new bike will have a swappable battery that’s interchangeable with the company’s scooters, which should help improve Lime’s bottom line by making vehicle charges much easier.
Trek Bicycle and World Bicycle Relief teamed up to do a nice thing and donate $1.8M to communities in developing regions. Consumers around the world made donations towards Trek’s 2021 Bike of the Year, WBR’s Buffalo Bicycle, which is designed to help people traveling long distances over difficult terrain.
Helbiz is partnering with Wheels it deploy 2,500 seated e-mobility vehicles in four U.S. cities and two Italian innovation hubs starting next month, with plans to expand into other markets in the future.
Cake is mounting Dometic’s temperature-controlled thermal box for food delivery, the DeliBox, onto some of its :work series bike to create a more innovative delivery solution.
Seattle-based e-bike maker Propella recently released its new bike, the Mini, which at the time of this writing is going for $899 (+$50 for U.S. shipping). It’s a single-speed, pedal-assist, ultra lightweight (33 lbs) e-bike with 20-inch wheels. It’s got a range of 20-35 miles and a top speed of 18 mph. Looks like a nice little commuter bike!
Retrospec has launched its new Koa Rev fat tire e-bike, complete with shock absorbers, up to 46 miles of range, a top speed of 20 mph and a throttle. Starting at $1,799.99.
Deal of the week
Peer-to-peer car-sharing startup Turo released its filing to become a publicly traded company in the U.S., which unfortunately did not include terms for its offering.
Turo, which was founded in 2010, allows private car owners to rent out their vehicles through the startup’s website or app – like Airbnb for cars. As car rental prices are increasing due to supply chain issues, Turo is gaining some market share that could lead to success. However, Turo comes with a lot of risk, as its S-1 filing showed.
Notably, the company might face liability for criminal activities of its hosts, like the ones who have been using Turo and other similar apps to smuggle humans near the U.S. border. Turo is also liable to lawsuits from airport authorities that require the startup to obtain rental car permits to operate.
That said there’s plenty of room for growth and expansion within the U.S. and internationally.
Other deals that got my attention …
Arive, an instant delivery service focused on the wider world of consumer goods, raised a Series A round of $20 million. The funding is being led by Balderton Capital, with Global Founders Capital (the firm connected to Rocket Internet’s Samwer family), Burda Principal Investments, La Famiglia and 468 Capital also participating.
Auto parks maker Aptiv is acquiring software developer Wind River for $4.3B in cash to boost its offerings to an auto industry that’s quickly becoming autonomous and electric, and thus, software-defined.
Bolt, which offers on-demand ride-hailing, shared cars and scooters, and restaurant and grocery delivery, has raised $709M at a valuation of $8.4B to expand into new geographies and bulk out new business lines like its 15-minute grocery delivery option by building out more “dark stores.”
Delivery Hero, the German food delivery group, sold $150 million worth of its stake in the Latin-American delivery company Rappi, close to the entire capital it had invested in the company, Reuters reported.
EVage, the all-electric commercial vehicle startup based in India, raised a $28 million seed round, led by new U.S.-based VC RedBlue Capital. The company plans to use the funds to complete its production-ready factory outside of Delhi in the first quarter of 2022 and scale up production to meet growing demand.
HeyCharge, a Germany-based startup focused on underground carparks, raised a $4.7 million seed round led by BMW i Ventures (also an early investor in Chargepoint and Chargemaster), the venture capital arm of BMW Group. Also participating was Statkraft Ventures, the venture capital arm of Statkraft, a large European generator of renewable energy.
Magna has acquired the tech, IP and assets of Optimus Ride, a Boston-based electric autonomous shuttle startup. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Magna has hired more than 120 OR employees. It plans to use OR’s tech to beef up its ADAS offerings.
StoreDot, the Israeli next-generation battery technology startup touting an “extreme fast charging” (XFC) battery for electric vehicles, secured the first close of its latest funding round led by Vietnamese electric vehicle manufacturer VinFast. The Series D round is due to close at up to $80 million.
A little bird
Kirsten here, popping in to give some historical insight into Optimus Ride, the autonomous shuttle company that ceased operations and sold its assets and IP to Magna. About 120 engineers have also joined Magna, as the company looks to beef up its advanced driver assistance system offerings.
It turns out that Optimus Ride was considering a merger with a special purpose acquisition company in a bid to go public. My sources say the company was shopping this idea around in early 2021 with a target of raising $400 million to $500 million during the process of going public. The plan was to close the deal by the end of the second quarter.
That obviously didn’t happen. Sources tell me they just couldn’t make the deal happen as some investors lost their appetite for mobility SPACs.
Notable news and other tidbits
The California DMV is revisiting its approach to regulating Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” beta software after being confronted with a ton of evidence that the technology drives cars into dangerous situations and a letter of concern from a state legislator. Tesla has been getting away with testing its AV tech on public roads and not reporting crashes and system failures to the DMV, as other autonomous car developers are required to do, for years.
Tesla owners/fans have paid $10K (soon to be $12K) for the privilege of testing the FSD software on public roads, when they’re meant to be, but often aren’t, supervising the operation of cars as they autonomously navigate on highways and city streets – features that other developers, like Waymo, Cruise, Argo and Zoox, must report on to the DMV.
The DMV has good timing, as it looks like FSD’s latest update to 10.3 is bringing driver profiles back, with typically bro-ey names like “Chill,” “Average,” and “Assertive.” The Assertive one may perform rolling stops, have a smaller follow distance, perform more frequent speed lane changes and will not exit passing lanes. Ok, Elon.
Ford appears to be toying with the idea of building its next AV facility in Dallas, according to city documents. Dallas city council members voted on Wednesday on an economic package that would entice the OEM to its city, rather than one of two potential sites in California, with a $3M tax break and a $250,000 grant towards the production of the facility.
Local Motors, the company behind the Olli autonomous shuttle and the Rally Fighter, has shut down operations, according to several posts from employees on LinkedIn who are already looking for work. Olli is the main feature photo for this post and was an early symbol of the burgeoning autonomous vehicle industry. The closure of Local Motors takes yet another autonomous shuttle out of operations and shows there is still room for consolidation in the industry.
Autonomous delivery company Nuro unveiled its next-gen electric self-driving vehicle designed and manufactured in partnership with BYD North America. The “Nuro,” an auto-grade vehicle that operates on public roads but doesn’t carry passengers, has twice the cargo volume of its previous model, customizable storage, temp-controlled compartments and a series of safety features like exterior airbags designed to protect other road users.
Serve Robotics, an Uber spinout that builds sidewalk delivery robots, is deploying its next-gen robots that can reach Level 4 autonomy (meaning no human in the loop) for deliveries in certain geofenced areas in Los Angeles.
Waymo is expanding its pilot-partnership with J.B. Hunt into a long term deal that will see the logistics company become Waymo Via’s first launch partner for freight movement when it deploys fully autonomous operations in Texas the next few years.
Roberto Baldwin gave us a First Drive of the all-electric 2022 Mercedes AMG EQS and the still-V8-powered SL Roadster, two new cars out of Mercedes’s high performance unit that tick all the boxes for performance, luxury and comfort.
Rivian reported that it produced 1,015 vehicles in 2021, delivering 920 by the end of the year – it had originally targeted production of 1,200 vehicles by EOY. The company has more than 71,000 pre-orders for its R1T pickup trucks.
General Motors has finally recognized California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own vehicle emissions standards, which adds it to the list of potential OEMs the state can consider for fleet vehicle purchases.
One of our featured articles this week from Jim Motavilli looked into the real reason the auto industry is facing a chip shortage – “feature bloat,” or “the tendency, fueled by sales competition, to slather new cars with as much technology as possible.”
The auto tech released at CES, which includes a range of unnecessary tech that can watch and learn from drivers to anticipate their needs, schedule maintenance on their behalf, connect with smart devices at home and even stream YouTube, is proof that automakers are leaning in way too hard to making vehicles defined by software. Especially when we consider that there is no bug-free software and much of this tech can and will be unreliable.
“Meanwhile, market reality has resulted in a collision course for buyers on the ground: higher prices and spotty availability of some of the features they say they most want,” writes Motavilli.