The Station: Cruise loses its head, Nio brings AR in the car and Rivian expands to Georgia

·11-min read

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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.

A few items before jumping in. Policy corner is going on hiatus for a bit. A message from reporter Aria Alamalhodaei:

"For the time being, your favorite mini-roundup of transportation policy news will be taking an extended hiatus. I hope to be back with you in the second quarter of 2022! If you have tips or policy news you want to share, send it over to Kirsten or Rebecca. See you next year!"

Secondly, I (that's me Kirsten) am taking a bit of holiday time and will see you next year! Wishing all my readers a happy holiday and good health in the coming year.

The transportation world lost one of its leaders this week. Ryan Popple, a former active duty Army officer and early member of Tesla's finance team who rose through the ranks before leaving to become a partner at Kleiner Perkins and CEO of electric bus manufacturer Proterra, died unexpectedly at 44 years old. He is survived by a wife and three children. Popple had recently left Proterra and had joined G2 Venture Partners.

As G2 Venture Partners wrote in its remembrance of Popple: "Ryan embodied entrepreneurial spirit and devoted his life to creating a better future. His leadership at Proterra was first and foremost about increasing access to affordable, sustainable solutions and shaping a zero-emission transportation future for the benefit of our planet and the health of our communities. His work as a partner at and Kleiner Perkins was dedicated to leading the sustainable transformation of industries. A former active duty officer in the U.S. Army, Ryan put country before self in uniform, and in civilian life."

I first interviewed Ryan back in 2016. During that interview and the few times we spoke since then, I was always struck with the particular combination of passion and practicality that he brought to every conversation. Ryan, you will be missed.

Finally, Hazel Chapman, the co-founder of Lotus Cars and former British racing driver, died earlier this week at the age of 94.

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'

Welcome folks, let's get right to it.

Tier, a Berlin-based micromobilty operator that just keeps growing, has acquired Wind Mobility's Italian operations. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but this is Tier's second company purchase of late, and Wind's second sale, as well. Wind also sold off its Israeli operations to Yandex, the Russian tech giant, a few months ago.

By the way, Tier also just released some stats about its London trial. Since the trial started in June, Tier scooters have seen more than 218,000 miles of trips on the road.

Zoomo, the Australian e-bike subscription platform for enterprise and gig economy delivery workers, has come out with a new utility e-bike, the Zoomo One, that it's hoping will take the place of the humble moped. It can handle payloads of 88 lbs in the back and 40 lbs in the front, and can handle deliveries no matter the weather or terrain, according to the company.

Unagi, the e-scooter manufacturer, has announced the nationwide expansion of its all-access subscription plan, which allows subscribers to pay-as-you-go on a monthly plan for about $50 a month, or pay for an annual plan of $39 per month. No commitments, no cancel fees, no worries.

Gogoro launched a new urban battery swapping initiative that uses Gogoro-powered smart parking meters, co-developed with Shengming Technology. The company says the meters will provide cities with smart city tech that fast-track the deployment of wireless connectivity and off-grid power for a range of users, including parking management. The meters are currently being deployed in New Taipei City, Taiwan, and will be operational in early 2022, with an additional 6,000 meters rolling out across the country by the end of the year.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station
money the station

Harley-Davidson announced that it's taking electric motorcycle division LiveWire public through a merger with a blank check company sponsored by executives of AEA Investors and Bridges Fund Management.

First the details: The agreement is with special purpose acquisition company AEA-Bridges Impact Corp (ABIC). The deal is funded by $400 million that ABIC is holding in trust, a $100 million investment from Harley-Davidson and $100 million from Kymco. Harley-Davidson will own about 74% of the newly combined company. The SPAC shareholders will have a 17% ownership, with the remaining 4% being held by SPAC founders and Kymco. The combined company is expected to have an enterprise value of about $1.77 billion and post-money equity value of about $2.31 billion at closing. The deal is expected to close in the second half of 2022.

What does this all mean? The deal will preserve much of Harley-Davidson’s ownership while giving LiveWire access to the capital that the public markets can provide -- and fold in Kymco as a key partner.

My prediction: If 2020 and 2021 were the years of the SPAC, 2022 will be the year of the public spin-out. Watch for more legacy companies to follow Harley-Davidson's LiveWire spin-out strategy.

Other deals that got my attention this week ...

Apex.ai, a mobility software startup founded by Bosch veterans and automated systems engineers Jan Becker and Dejan Pangercic, raised a Series B $56.5 million round led by Orillion. AGCO, Canaan, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Airbus Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover's InMotion Ventures, Continental and ZF also participated. Apex has raised a total of $74 million to date, a figure that includes previously announced investments from Volvo Group Venture Capital, Toyota Ventures and HELLA Ventures. ZF is taking a 5% stake in Apex.

Gopuff is in the process of raising $1.5 billion, with a valuation of up to $40 billion.

Solvento, a platform that provides trucking companies with immediate access to capital, raised $4.5 million in funding led by Dynamo Ventures with participation from Wollef Ventures and Zenda Capital. The funding includes a $3 million debt facility from Marco Financial.

Vay, a company that is trying to get self-driving car services to market faster by pursuing a teledriven approach, has raised a $95 million Series B round to help it launch its first commercial service in Hamburg, Germany sometime in 2022.

Vertical Aerospace, an aerospace and technology company, started trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker EVTL.

Voly, a five-month-old Sydney-based startup that offers thousands of SKUs and promises deliveries in 15 minutes at a flat fee of AUS$2.99 ($2.14), has raised AUS$18 million (just under $13 million at today's rates) in a seed round of funding that it will be using to expand its business to cities and towns across the country.

WeRide, the Chinese autonomous vehicle technology company, received a strategic investment from Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC Group). The companies did not disclose the terms.

Notable news and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

It was a crazy week in the world of autonomous vehicles!

Aurora's self-driving trucks are hauling goods for Uber Freight customers in Texas as part of a multiphase commercial pilot that aims to more closely integrate the two companies. Aurora is using the Uber Freight brokerage platform, which connects truck drivers with shippers that need cargo delivered, to haul freight for customers between Dallas and Houston. Aurora said it will expand routes as it adds more terminals.

Einride, an electric and autonomous freight company from Sweden, launched its debut NFT, the first-ever sketch of its autonomous Pod, as its first foray into the crypto space. It will be the first in a series of NFTs to be released by the company, it says, and will be the catalyst for Einride to tap into the web3 world. Because every freight company needs a space in the metaverse.

GM issued a terse and unexpected statement this week that Cruise CEO Dan Ammann was leaving the company. There was no shortage of tips, rumors and speculation sent my way in the few hours after the announcement about why Ammann left. I have not confirmed any of them. I did speak with a few folks who had direct knowledge of how it played at over at Cruise HQ. The most common words were "chaotic," "hasty" and a "surprise."

Separately, Lucas Watson, Cruise's senior vice president of go-to-market, left the company last week. I'm told this is unrelated. However, it doesn't change the fact that two key people focused on the business strategy at Cruise are now gone.

Mobileye said it has added Paris to its autonomous vehicle testing program. The company said it will be working with French public transport provider RATP to provide an AV on-demand service for employees of the shopping center Galleries Lafayette Paris Hausmann.

Motional is partnering with Uber to launch an autonomous delivery pilot in Santa Monica. Uber Eats customers will be able to order restaurant meal kits to be delivered to them via one of Motional's retrofitted all-electric Hyundai Ioniq 5 robotaxis by early next year.

Pony.ai, a Chinese autonomous driving startup with an office in the U.S., has paused its driverless pilot fleet in California six months after it was approved by local regulators to test autonomous vehicles without a human safety driver. The California Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency that regulates AVs in the state, suspended Pony's driverless testing permit following a reported collision in Fremont on October 28, the DMV told TechCrunch in a statement.

TuSimple reached a deal to integrate its autonomous vehicle technology into DHL Supply Chain's operations. As part of the deal, the contract logistics giant has reserved 100 autonomous trucks that are being co-developed by TuSimple and Navistar. The agreement with DHL pushes TuSimple's total reservations order to 6,875 trucks, the first of which will be delivered in 2024.

TuSimple disclosed that is it already using its self-driving trucks to haul freight daily for DHL on a San Antonio-to-Dallas route.

A Waymo self-driving Jaguar I-Pace that struck a pedestrian in San Francisco was in manual mode, the company told TechCrunch in response to an initial report posted on Reddit.

Electric vehicles

Abigail Bassett gives her first impressions of the 2022 Porsche Taycan GTS Sport Turismo.

Ample co-founder John de Souza is our last founder Q&A of the year.

Canoo is ending its deal with Dutch automotive manufacturing company VDL Nedcar to serve as its contract manufacturer in Europe and instead is exploring a new deal with VDL Groep, another Dutch auto manufacturing company, to produce vehicles in the United States.

Lightyear, a company developing a long distance solar car, signed an agreement with car-as-a-service company LeasePlan to reserve 5,000 of Lightyear's second model to offer on its platform by 2025.

Kia said its new EV6 has an estimated EPA range of 310 miles when equipped with a 77.4 kWh battery and rear-wheel drive. The EV6 goes on sale in the first quarter of 2022.

GM executive Pamela Fletcher, an engineer who launched the Chevrolet Bolt and who more recently was vice president of the company’s global innovation team, left the company to become an executive with Delta Air Lines.

Nio, the Chinese electric car company, debuted the ET5, a "smart" mid-sized sedan that it says has between 550 kilometers and 1,000 kilometers of range depending on the battery pack size. The interior has a panoramic digital cockpit it calls Panocinema that features AR and VR tech; notably, there are custom augmented reality glasses developed through a partnership with Nreal that can project a 201-inch screen out six meters in front of drivers.

Proterra, the U.S. commercial electric vehicle company that produces transit buses and electric charging systems, is opening its third battery factory in Greer, South Carolina. The factory should begin production in the second half of 2022 with "multiple gigawatt hours of annual battery system production capacity," according to the company.

Rivian had its first earnings report as a publicly traded company. The big news: Rivian is expanding production capacity of its Normal, Illinois factory from 150,000 to 200,000 electric vehicles a year and building a second factory east of Atlanta that will have a targeted annual production capacity of 400,000 vehicles a year. This Georgia factory will include a co-located battery cell production facility. Construction will begin in summer 2022 with production beginning in 2024. Speaking of Rivian, reporter Mark Harris looked into one of Rivian's earliest backers: Space Florida.

Toyota laid out its EV plans — a target of introducing 30 battery electric vehicles by 2030 and for total global battery electric vehicle sales to reach 3.5 million within the same time frame. The company also aims to turn Lexus into an all-electric brand by the end of the decade. And amid its media reveal managed to squeeze in the time to rickroll us.

Gig economy

Rebecca Bellan digs into the question: Who pays when an Uber driver is killed?

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