The Station: Tesla’s rough week, China’s AV strategy and Joby’s air taxi play in South Korea – TechCrunch

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The Station: Tesla’s rough week, China’s AV strategy and Joby’s air taxi play in South Korea – TechCrunch


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.

Tesla has come under public scrutiny this week for a range of issues, from recalls to lawsuits to Elon Musk needing to Just. Stop. Tweeting! We feel compelled to ask the question – Tesla, you good, bro?

Where to start? So this week, Tesla had to recall nearly 27,000 vehicles in the U.S. because of a software error that may result in windshield defrosting problems, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The automaker is also recalling close to 600,000 vehicles because pedestrians may not be able to hear the required warning sound of an approaching car due to loud music or other sounds played by Tesla’s “Boombox” feature, which allows sounds to be played through an external speaker while the vehicle is in motion for max obnoxiousness. 

Over the last four months, Tesla has issued 10 U.S. recalls, including four in the last two weeks. The company said it wasn’t aware of any crashes, injuries or fatalities related to any of the issues. 

Tesla is also being sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for alleged racial discrimination and harassment at the company’s Fremont, California manufacturing plant — which has come under public scrutiny for both racism and sexual harassment multiple times in the past. The California agency said it received “hundreds of complaints from workers” who say the factory is a “segregated workplace where black workers are subjected to racial slurs and discriminated against…”

But that’s not all! The SEC is calling Tesla to court because CEO Elon Musk can’t stop himself from breaking the terms of a 2018 settlement with the Commission, which stated that he had to have any tweets sharing material information pre-approved by a legal team. The subpoena, which actually happened in November but we’re just learning about this week, came after Musk started crowdsourcing on Twitter as to whether he should sell 10% of his stake in Tesla.

As always, you can email us at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com or rebecca.techcrunch@gmail.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. You also can send a direct message to Kirsten at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

A range of 15-minute grocery delivery companies are cropping up around the world, and they’re fueled by gig workers on micromobility vehicles. In some seriously depressing yet unshocking news, many of those gig workers, under pressure to perform quickly so they can make some semblance of a living, are injuring themselves while on delivery routes. The Verge wrote about this phenomena in India, a place where instant commerce is causing more road accidents and, you guessed it, injured drivers aren’t getting much, if anything, in the way of compensation from the companies they work for, like Swiggy and Blinkit.

In some less bleak news, Spin did some research on mode-shifts and found about 25% of trips on the company’s micromobility vehicles replaced private or rideshare car trips. That number was higher at 30% in cities like LA, SLC and Tampa that are more car-centric. 

The research also found riders connect with public transit before or after about a quarter of their e-scooter or e-bike trips. Spin further investigated this by partnering with the University of Florida to conduct a survey of D.C. travelers, almost 60% of whom have used e-scooters to connect to public transit at least once. 

Cities that want to better integrate micromobility and public transit might be starting to consider Ye Olde docking station. Long have docking stations been a thing of the first wave of micromobility, a holding pen for the analog bicycle. Yet micromobility solutions provider Acton’s acquisition of docking station startup Duckt might point to a fresh possibility — one that includes the ability to charge both e-scooters and e-bikes at these stations while simultaneously providing a semblance of order amidst the chaos of the dockless vehicles. 

A coalition has formed among scooter operators in Europe called Micromobility for Europe, made up of founding members like Bird, Bolt, Dott, FreeNow, Lime, Tier, Voi and Wind. The coalition wants to help develop a policy framework in Europe around micromobility and decreasing emissions associated with urban travel. 

Deal of the week

money the station

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Are SPACs out and mergers with shell companies in? Probably not, but this deal stands out just because of how weird it seems.

GoTo Global, an Israeli mobility company that offers shared micromobility and car-sharing services in Spain, Israel, Malta and Germany, is going public on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) through a merger with shell company Nera Tech Media. There’s a lot to unpack in this deal, which reporter Rebecca Bellan does, but the gist is that GoTo Global is hoping to get liquid access to an initial $12 million in cash to help it fuel its expansion in Germany. Nera Tech isn’t quite a complete shell of a company, because it owns startup Trinity Audio, but GoTo plans to sell that for a tidy profit to help it on its path to IPO.

Other deals that got our attention this week …

American Axle & Manufacturing said it will invest $15 million in early-stage Silicon Valley venture capital firm Autotech Ventures.

Morai, which provides autonomous vehicle developers with automotive simulation tools to verify the safety and reliability of self-driving systems, raised $20.8 million (25 billion KRW) in a Series B funding round led by Korea Investment Partners along with KB Investment and Korea Development Bank. Existing investors Naver D2 Startup Factory, Hyundai Motor Group, Kakao Ventures and Atinum Investment also participated in the round. It brings its total funding raised to date to $24.9 million (30 billion KRW).

Quanergy Systems, the solid state lidar sensors company, finalized its merger with special purpose acquisition company CITIC Capital Acquisition Corp.

Shift5 raised $50 million in Series B funding to defend transport networks from cyberattacks.

Cazoo, an online used car retailer that went public via SPAC last August, raised $630 million via a private placement of 2% convertible notes, led by Viking Global Investors.

Swing raised a $24 million Series B round to expand its fleet of micromobility vehicles in Japan.

Navier, a startup that makes long-range, electric speedboats with hydrofoil technology, closed a $7.2 million seed raise.

BasiGo, a Kenya-based EV started, closed $4.3 million in seed funding to provide clean mass transit vehicles in Kenya.

KoBold Metals, a company building AI and ML tech to discover mineral resources needed for EVs, raised $192.5 million in a Series B to expand its search for minerals.

Volocopter and Aviation Capital Group have agreed to a sales and financing lease of Volocopter’s aircraft. The agreement will finance up to $1 billion for Volocopter aircraft when the company achieves certification.

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

As you might already know, we hear things. But we’re not selfish; we also share.

This week, let’s enjoy a little history lesson that might shed light on a recent deal.

You might have seen that Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, a spinoff of Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, raised $400 million from private-market investment firm StepStone Group Inc., news that Bloomberg first reported on.

Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, known as SIP, launched a subsidiary in August 2020 called Cavnue to develop roadways for connected and autonomous vehicles.

It turns out that about a year ago, Cavnue (the SIP subsidiary) was exploring the opportunity of going public via a SPAC, according to folks who are familiar with the investment outreach occurring at the time. The company was specifically aiming to raise between $550 million and $700 million — funds it said were needed to truly ramp and scale across the United States.

The SPAC market started to go soft in March 2020 and by May most pre-revenue companies seeking the SPAC route were forced to change course. Cavnue, it appears, was one of those that turned back to the private markets.

While SIP is the company named in this raise, my sources contend that Cavnue, being the most developed of the projects, is likely the primary source of these funds.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

China’s autonomous industry is ramping up in a huge way, and this week, Rita Liao investigated what exactly was driving this frenzy on TechCrunch+. The answer: Tons of VC money, a mature and native supply chain, eager customers and, most importantly, a government that’s both supportive and enterprising. 

Liao explains how China’s city government officials, eager to win at smart transportation, are greenlighting robotaxi and ADAS trials and handing out generous benefits to promising companies. They work with startups to craft favorable legislation and to implement the necessary public infrastructure for V2X software, which can provide more redundancies so companies can safely test more advanced tech like self-driving without human safety operators. 

One such Chinese AV startup that claims to be doing quite well is AutoX, a company that announced plans to start robotaxi operations in San Francisco. AutoX also claimed to have 1,000 robotaxis in its fleet and on the roads in China, which would make it the biggest operator in the country. But something doesn’t quite add up. When asked how many rides it’s accumulated, the AV developer was unable to answer. In addition, AutoX hasn’t raised funds since 2019. It has publicly announced a total of $160 million, which, when you compare to Momenta’s $1.2 billion, Pony.ai’s $1.1 billion or even WeRide’s $600 million — all of which were raised last year — something seems off. 

Zoox says it’s built dozens of custom-made electric robotaxis and is testing them in “semi-private courses” in California, which suggests it’s prepping to start testing on public roads. My question is whether or not Zoox has to report disengagements to the California DMV for semi-private courses? I know they don’t have to report back for “private tracks” or “closed courses”…

And I know this because the California DMV released its annual disengagements and mileage reports for autonomous vehicles last week. We care less about the disengagements themselves, because everyone measures what maketh a disengagement differently, and more about things like fleet size and miles driven. The biggest takeaway from last year is that even though there were far fewer AV companies actively testing on public roads, the number of miles driven about doubled to 4.1 million, fueled largely by Waymo with 2.3 million miles.

Waabi, a self-driving truck technology startup founded by Uber ATG’s former chief scientist Raquel Urtasun, launched a high-fidelity closed-loop simulator called Waabi World. The pitch is that this simulator doesn’t just virtually test Waabi’s self-driving software, but also teaches it in real time.

Electric vehicles

President Joe Biden said Tesla. That’s it; that’s the story.

Subaru opened up reservations for its upcoming 2023 Solterra EV. The Solterra, the automaker’s first electric vehicle, will go on sale this summer in all 50 states.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and Energy announced that nearly $5 billion will be made available under President Biden’s infrastructure plan to build a national EV charging network. The DOE also promised $3 billion in funding to support U.S. battery manufacturing and recycling technology. 

eVTOLs

Joby Aviation plans to offer an air taxi service in South Korea in partnership with SK Telecom (SKT), one of the country’s largest telecommunication companies. The two partners signed a strategic collaboration agreement on Sunday at Joby’s manufacturing facility in Marina, California.

Joby has also begun Federal Aviation Administration conformity testing as it seeks type certification for its aircraft and enters the “implementation phase” for the first time.

In-car tech

Mazda owners (at least some of them in Seattle) can’t tune their radios away from NPR thanks to a glitch, the Seattle Times reported.

Augmented reality is finding a foothold in cars via safety features, as demonstrated by a couple pieces of news this week. The first is that Basemark announced its AR tech would be featured in the new BMW iX series. The second is that Harman purchased Apostera and together they will produce an AR platform-as-a-product for automakers. 

Miscellaneous

Lyft’s fourth-quarter earnings, while displaying an increased revenue, show that rider numbers are still not where they were pre-pandemic. Cost per ride has gone up, though, which the company in large part attributed to more rides to the airport — a pricey endeavor, indeed. 





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