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EV SPACs struggle, Mercedes shows its OS hand and Cruise passes the 1 million-mile mark

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Welcome back to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B. 

This week, I headed to Sunnyvale, California, home to the Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America facility, to attend what the company had described as a strategy update. It's safe to say the automaker packed a lot of news into the day-long affair.

Where do I begin? How about the future tech foundation of its vehicles. I'm talking about MB.OS, an operating system that Mercedes has been working on for years now. The operating system will debut in its next-generation of vehicles expected to go into production by mid decade.

Mercedes is not going it alone, however. MB.OS, which is designed to be more efficient and use fewer ECUs, will also leverage tech from partners like Google, Luminar and Nvidia.

Mercedes-Benz and Google announced a long-term partnership that appears to strike a Goldilocks-type balance between offering the Google services consumers want without ceding control over the entire operating system in the car. Specifically, Mercedes is tapping Google for its Maps, Cloud and the YouTube app.

Mercedes also announced plans to expand a rather new relationship with lidar company Luminar and provided an update on its partnership with Nvidia.

And the news didn't stop there. The company revealed the interior of the upcoming Mercedes E Class, which includes the next-generation MBUX infotainment system that it described as a precursor to MB.OS. The newly updated MBUX system will feature a “superscreen” that spans the entire dashboard and will feature a bunch of third-party apps, including TikTok, Zoom video conferencing, Angry Birds, Vivaldi web browser and Webex by Cisco apps.

Drivers won't have access to the apps while the vehicle is moving. However, it is expected that the automaker's conditional automated driving system called Drive Pilot, which allows for hands off, eyes-off driving in certain conditions on highways, will make its way to the E Class when it goes on sale this fall. If that's the case, well then, those apps would be available.

Last item: I sat in the passenger seat for a test "ride" of the Drive Pilot system on a highway in California. The hands-off, eyes-off system was impressive in terms of performance, staying within the lane, making automated lane changes and the style of driving (not too passive, not too aggressive).

Notably, though is HOW the vehicle communicates to the driver when it's time to take over or if the driver is not following the rules. The driver-monitor system is on it! I can't give a full review until I drive this myself, but my early impressions were positive.

You can drop us a note at tips@techcrunch.comIf you prefer to remain anonymousclick here to contact us, which includes SecureDrop (instructions here) and various encrypted messaging apps.

Micromobbin'

the station scooter1a
the station scooter1a

Apollo Scooters has teased the return of its Explore lineup. The new scooter looks like it has a folding foot deck that allows you to face forward while riding. Look out, Taur.

Arcimoto aims to ramp up 2023 deliveries and improve steering on its new 3-wheeled tiny EVs.

Bolt is adding an EV tricycle to its app in Malta. The tiny electric vehicle, Buzzz Electric's Carver vehicle, has a range of 62 miles and can easily maneuver through Malta's narrow city streets. It fits two passengers plus cargo, and protects passengers from the elements.

Defiant's new electric skateboard looks like something off the sunny streets of San Diego, except it flies at 38 miles per hour.

The city of Delhi is clamping down on TNCs like Ola, Rapido and Uber operating motorbike taxi services without a permit. The city plans to enforce a 1988 law that makes it illegal to do so. Curious how Uber, in particular, will handle this. The company has a long history of saying "Screw you" to cities that demand it get a permit to operate there, arguing that Uber is not a taxi company, but rather a technology platform that connects drivers with riders.

Earth+Kin has launched the Mule, a fat-tired all-terrain wagon that can turn any bike into a cargo bike. The company had been campaigning on Kickstarter last year.

The European Parliament has tasked the European Commission with doubling the number of kilometers cycled in Europe by 2030. A new adopted resolution has a 17-point action plan to develop more cycling infrastructure as well as an ecosystem including bike, component and battery production and manufacturing.

The FDNY is urging the federal government to seriously regulate uncertified e-bikes after way too many fires caused by lithium batteries.

India's Hero MotoCorp is gearing up to massively expand its EV lineup over the next 24 months.

Lectric has launched its XPedition, its first e-cargo bike. It has a 150-mile range, can handle 450 pounds of weight and can drive up to 75 miles on a single charge. The bike costs $1,399 for a single-battery setup and $1,699 for dual battery.

Lime reported that it reached full-year 2022 profitability, in both adjusted and unadjusted EBITDA terms. The company told TechCrunch it'll be free cash flow positive by this year or next, and is ready to go public whenever the markets become less stressed. Micromobility has been a tough business to get right, and many other companies have had to exit cities and shrink operations. Fingers crossed there's hope for this industry yet.

London, Ontario received exactly zero proposals from a recent bikeshare RFP, probably because the city hasn't put up any funds to keep the program going.

Mate has revealed its working prototype of an electric cargo bike. The Mate SUV wants to replace the family car. The bike isn't cheap at about $6,900, but compared to the cost of car ownership of around $10,000 per year in the U.S., it's a bargain. The Mate SUV will begin shipping to customers in the EU and U.K. in September.

River, an EV maker we featured back in October 2021, has launched its first electric scooter.

New Zealand's Ubco has launched a 2023 special edition electric motorbike that's designed to bridge the gap between city and offroad riding. It's basically an upgraded version of the 2X2, complete with a host of cool accessories, like a built-in central tote, a compact rear duffle with expandable compartments, a phone mount and giant loop straps. It can carry 330 pounds, rides up to 30 miles per hour and has a 75-mile range. Price is $6,999.

VoroMotors's new RoadRunner Pro scooter lets you sit down while it carts you at up to 50 miles per hour. It's a sturdy looking vehicle, and it'll only set you back $2,895.

Youon Technology Co Ltd. showed off a folding hydrogen powered bike. Sure, why not!?

Are you a Barbie girl? Yvolution has the pastel pink e-scooter for you!

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station
money the station

Welp, this week it's just a roundup! Enjoy and see ya next time. ;D

Carmoola, the British-Ukrainian car finance startup, raised £103.5 million ($124 million) in a Series A round led by fintech investment fund QED Investors, to scale the business and increase staff headcount. The company also secured a debt facility of up to £95 million from NatWest.

Dida, the Chinese ride-hailing firm that should not be confused with Didi, refiled for an IPO. There were no details on the fundraising size or timeline in the preliminary prospectus.

Electra Vehicles, a Boston-based battery management software company, raised $21 million in a funding round led by Italian venture capital firm United Ventures. Stellantis Ventures as well as existing investors LIFTT, Club degli Investitori and BlackBerry Limited also participated.

Gauge, an online auction for dealers to buy vehicles directly from consumers, raised $5.3 million in a seed round led by Maniv Mobility. Other investors, including Proeza Ventures and FJ Labs, also participated in the round.

GeoPura, the U.K. green hydrogen pioneer, raised £36 million ($43 million) investment in a round led by GM Ventures, the investment arm of General Motors, and co-led by Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital with participation from SWEN CP and Siemens Energy Ventures, to scale its green hydrogen business.

inDrive, the ride-hailing app founded in Russia and now based in California, raised $150 million in a debt funding round from General Catalyst.

Kou Mobility Group, the Estonian parent company of Comodule, Aike and Tuul, acquired a majority stake in e-bike company Ampler. Kou hopes it'll be able to generate €1 billion in revenue by 2031.

Third Wave Automation, a high-reach autonomous forklift company, secured a strategic investment from Qualcomm Ventures and Zebra Technologies, bringing its total funding to $70 million.

Notable news and other tidbits

ADAS

Tesla started rolling out version 11 of its Full Self-Driving (FSD) beta software to employees and testers after months of delays. While the company hasn't officially shared release notes on FSD Beta V11.3, leaked notes and videos from beta testers have surfaced online. Here's rundown of what is included.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has asked Tesla to provide more information after one of its vehicles crashed into a fire truck in California. The agency did not confirm to TechCrunch what kind of information it is seeking, but NHTSA likely wants to determine whether one of Tesla’s advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) — Autopilot or Full Self-Driving (FSD) beta — was engaged at the time of the crash.

Autonomous vehicles

Cruise hit 1 million "driverless" miles 15 months after its first ride without a human safety operator behind the wheel on San Francisco's public roads.

Motional is moving one step closer to its goal of removing the safety driver from robotaxi operations by expanding its service in Las Vegas to nighttime rides. Motional is working toward a fully driverless service later this year.

Earnings

Earnings season continues, with Bird, Carvana, Joby Aviation, Lucid Group, Nikola and Stellantis posting full-year and Q4 reports. Next week is Rivian!

The big takeaway, in terms of trends, is that EV SPACs are still struggling and the headwinds don't seem to be abating. Lordstown, an EV SPAC that hasn't reported earnings yet, had bad news too. The company halted production and deliveries of its all-electric Endurance pickup because of performance and quality issues with certain components. The company is voluntarily recalling the 19 vehicles it has delivered to date because of "specific electrical connection issue that could result in a loss of propulsion while driving." (gulp!)

Earnings highlights ....

Carvana has the distinction of losing $37 billion in market capitalization in the past year. And that's not the bad news. The company reported a loss of $806 million in the fourth quarter, has forecast another drop in the first quarter and is facing rising interest payments.

Joby Aviation closed out 2022 with $1.1 billion in cash and short-term investments, including an upfront equity investment of $60 million from Delta. The company spent $291 million in 2022 and $84 million in the fourth quarter on operating activities and purchases of property and equipment. The company's net loss of $66.9 million reflected operating expenses of $101.4 million.

Lucid Motors missed Wall Street estimates for fourth-quarter and full-year 2022 revenue, as well as 2023 production and delivery goals. As you might expect, shares dove. Lucid set 2023 annual production targets of 10,000 to 14,000, which is roughly half of the 20,000 to 22,000 deliveries analysts had expected for the year.

Nikola missed Wall Street expectations on revenue as the company failed to deliver enough trucks to bring in that sweet, sweet cash. The company produced 133 battery-electric trucks in the fourth quarter and only delivered 20 to dealers. Nikola lost $222.1 million in the fourth quarter, up from the $159.4 million it lost in the same period last year.

Stellantis, which includes brands Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep and Ram, had a helluva of a 2022. Net profits popped 26% to €16.8 billion ($17.8 billion). Revenue increased 18% to €179.6 billion ($190 billion). The company had particularly strong growth in North America, where revenue rose 23% to €85.5 billion ($90 billion).

Electric vehicles, batteries & charging

Dongfeng Honda will not launch any new ICE vehicles in China, starting 2030, the company told TechCrunch.

Electrify America said that beginning March 6, 2023, the EV charging company will increase its per-kilowatt-hour (kWh) and per-minute pricing. Pass members will see the price per-kWh increase from $0.43 to $0.48. The price per-minute will increase from $0.16 to $0.19 for up to 90 kW, or $0.32 to $0.37 for up to 350 kW.

Ford extended a production shutdown of its all-electric Ford Lightning pickup truck by another week.

Sono Motors ended its Sion EV program to pivot to a business that aims to sell its solar vehicle technology to other companies. The company laid off 300 workers as a result of the change.

Panasonic shares what it learned ramping up production that the massive EV battery plant operated with Tesla. An interesting read from WSJ.

Tesla is making California the home of its global engineering headquarters. The company headquarters will remain in Texas. Side note: Gov. Gavin Newsom and Elon Musk spoke at the announcement event, which is how we now know that the governor put $100,000 down back in 2007 to reserve the Roadster.

Future of flight

Blade completed a live test flight marking the first demonstration of a piloted electric vertical aircraft  in the greater New York City region. The aircraft, known as "ALIA-250," is powered by an all-electric propulsion system with vertical takeoff and landing capability and a noise profile that is 1/10th the sound decibel level of conventional helicopters, making it ideal for use in urban areas, according to the company.

Dozens of bipartisan members of Congress have come together to urge Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to issue stronger leadership in the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) sector.

In-car tech

Baidu revealed its much-anticipated intelligent Ernie Bot, widely seen as the search giant’s counterpart to ChatGPT, will make its way into in-car entertainment, among other applications.

Jaguar Land Rover will open three new engineering hubs in Europe, specifically Germany, Italy and Spain, to develop autonomous vehicle technologies. The new technology hubs are part of strategic partnership with Nvidia. The company already has six JLR tech hubs in USA, Hungary, Ireland, U.K., China and India.

People

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said Tesla CEO Elon Musk still needs to get pre-approval from lawyers (aka Twitter sitter) before tweeting Tesla-related information.

Ride-hailing

Uber released an updated version of its app with a more straightforward homescreen that removes the friction of a few extra taps when booking a ride or ordering a delivery. It also allows customers to more easily access saved locations, and some iPhone users can track a ride’s progress on their lock screen.