The Station: Amazon reveals Rivian stake, the Tesla FSD saga continues and Aurora snaps up a CGI startup

·18 min read

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Hello readers: Welcome to The Station, your spooktacular central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B. Happy Halloween.

It's been an insane week of news that kicked off with Tesla hitting a trillion-dollar market valuation when shares pushed higher after Hertz announced plans to buy 100,000 of its electric vehicles. At the same time, the FSD software beta saga has continued to play out. The latest was National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy calling on Tesla to change the design of its advanced driver assistance system to ensure it cannot be misused by drivers, according to a letter sent to the company’s CEO Elon Musk.

The FSD controversy is not fading away. I wonder if Tesla owners, especially those who bought into FSD years ago, will turn on Musk and the company? They can't possibly love Musk's latest comments, in which he confirmed that Tesla vehicles with Autopilot 2.0 will need a camera upgrade before owners who already bought FSD can get access to the beta software. But perhaps these owners will happily bring in their vehicles for the upgrade. How do you expect this to play out?

In the meantime, I started my week by exchanging a Jeep Wrangler 4XE Unlimited Sahara plug-in hybrid for the new all-electric Mercedes-Benz EQS580 4MATIC. These vehicles, which were provided to me for one week of testing, couldn't be more different. Reflecting on my experiences with EVs over the past six years or more, it's fascinating to see what has improved and what has not. More to come on my thoughts about these two vehicles.

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'

The understated news of the week came from the North American Bikeshare and Scootershare Alliance (NABSA) and its annual conference. One of the many interesting micromobility concepts that was covered during the event was the launch of seven privacy principles for mobility data. Created via a collab between mobility companies-- like Uber, Lyft, Spin, Bird and Lime -- cities and other stakeholders, these guidelines at least start the conversation on responsible uses of rider data, both on the city side and the operator side.

Micromobility operator update

Spin and TransLoc, a transpo tech and software provider, have announced a five-year agreement with the University of California San Diego to create a mobility ecosystem that will optimize how the school's 75,000 students and staff move around campus. Spin will also be expanding its presence at the uni, bringing in 600 e-bikes and e-scooters and a network of Spin Hub charging stations, which will be integrated into TransLoc's transit software. Next year, TransLoc will also power the school's small buses and electric carts for on-demand services.

Bird, which also offers vehicles to the UCSD students, has announced to the world that size does matter. The operator is expanding the footboards on its Bird Three scooters to sturdy 25 inches, saying a bigger footboard makes for a more stable, more comfortable ride.

Bird just integrated with transit planning app Moovit in 65 cities across 12 countries. Bird joins the likes of Spin and Lime on the app, all of which will now be able to feature available nearby vehicles, including how long it'll take to walk to them and what their charge is like.

Oh, and one more Bird thing. Keep an eye out for the company's IPO! Bird goes public via SPAC any day now. Its shareholder vote to approve the SPAC deal is on November 2, and its first Q3 earnings call is scheduled for November 15.

Cake, the Swedish e-motorbike maker, is launching its first real live store. The CAKEsite, as the company is calling it, is a combo between a showroom, retail, test ride and service center. The site in Stockholm is the first of a planned 25 sites in North America and Europe by 2025.

When cities do micromobility right

The Miami Riders Alliance announced that its e-scooter program has recorded more than 1.2 million rides in 2021, and is on track to beat the previous ridership record of 1.3 million rides from 2019 before the end of November. The pilot program has generated over $3M in city revenue, which has helped fund new protected bike lanes downtown.

Wellington, New Zealand is getting a second Mt Victoria tunnel per its $6.4 billion transport package, and among the options that are being discussed is one that would convert the tunnel into one dedicated to walking and cycling only. That's a big deal in a city that's pretty car-centric. There's also talk of adding a dedicated bus priority lane to the mix, which would really open up non-car transit options for those in the eastern suburbs of the city.

Paris wants to be 100% cyclable by 2026 and is planning to throw down $291 million to bulk out its protected bike lane system by 180 miles, build 180,000 new bike parking spots, get rid of 70,000 on-street car parking spots, help businesses get on cargo bikes and raise awareness among school kids about how to bike.

Lyft and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser started offering free 30-day Capital Bikeshare memberships to all D.C. residents to combat travel disruptions caused by reduced Metrorail service. Now that's how you integrate micromobility into public transit!

Micromobility money

Tier Mobility just snagged $200 million which it says is the "first close" of its Series D. The Berlin-based company is going to raise even more, apparently. Tier says the full round will be a mix of debt and equity.

Rad Power Bikes, the fat tire e-bike manufacturer, raised a $154 million Series D from existing institutional investors, which brings the company's total funding to $329 million. The company will spend the money on funding tech and product innovation, building out its distribution centers and expanding its supply chain.

Fresh swag

E-bike manufacturer Tenways just launched its first model, the CGO 600, on Indiegogo at a price of $1,400. It's optimized for the urban environment, with a lightweight frame and a 250W motor for steep hills. And even though its on Indiegogo, which really gives no indication of whether the bike is actually going to make it to your door or not, the company says its bikes are already rolling off the production lines.

Serial 1, electric bike-spawn of Harley Davidson, has unveiled its second single-edition e-bike. The MOSH/BMX is available for auction, which will close on Tuesday, November 2 at 5pm MDT.

Future Motion is launching two new Onewheels: the GT and the Pint X. The GT is Onewheel's new flagship product with more power, torque and performance. It's got 3hp and gives up to 32 miles of charge. The vehicle is available for pre-order and ships in January, and it'll cost $2,200. The Pint X is a compacted model with 18 miles of charge per day and a top speed of 18 mph. This one costs $1,400 and ships now.

E-bike and e-scooter maker Okai is launching the Beetle EA10 seated electric scooter and the Neon ES20 portable, smart street scooter, signaling a desire to hit different use cases. The Beetle has a wide cushioned seat and shock absorbers, and can go 16 mph at top speed. The Neon has a 1-click folding design, sweet customizable neon lights on the stem and undercarriage and 25 miles of range.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station
money the station

This isn't a new deal as much as a new disclosure that gives fresh insight into how closely Rivian's future is tied to Amazon.

Amazon disclosed Friday that it owns a 20% stake in Rivian. That's notable!

According to a regulatory filing, Amazon held equity investments (as of September 30) including preferred stock of Rivian that represented about 20% ownership interest. That holding had a "carrying value" of $3.8 billion, up from $2.7 billion as of December 31, 2020.

Amazon has invested $1.345 billion into Rivian, according to the EV maker's initial public offering. Amazon also recently purchased $490 million worth of convertible notes in Rivian that will convert to Class A shares after the IPO, pursuant to certain pricing provisions.

What does this all mean? Amazon stands to gain if Rivian's IPO is successful. And Rivian might be an independent company, but Amazon has considerable influence as an investor and customer. Expect Amazon to use it.

Other deals that got my attention this week ...

Amazon dipped back into its $2 billion climate fund and invested in fast-charging technology Resilient Power, CMC Machinery and put additional capital into Infinium, a renewable fuels technology company it previously backed.

Arc, a startup that launched 10 months ago with ambitions to electrify everything on the water, has brought on several new investors, including funds from Will Smith's Dreamers VC, Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman's Thirty Five Ventures and Sean "Diddy" Combs' Combs Enterprises. The new investment, which co-founder and CEO Mitch Lee describes as a strategic round, pushes Arc's total funding past $7 million. VC firm Andreessen Horowitz led the company's seed round in February. Chris Sacca's Lowercarbon Capital and Ramtin Nami's Abstract Ventures invested in Arc's seed round.

Aurora, the autonomous vehicle startup scheduled to make its debut on Nasdaq in November, snapped up three-person computer graphic imagery startup Colrspace, which has been operating in stealth. The team of Pixar veterans has technology that Aurora believes can improve the computer simulation tool it uses to test and train its self-driving system more like the real world. Aurora will also own Colrspace's IP, specifically technology that combines CGI and machine learning.

Autochek, an African automotive company, raised $13.1 million in a seed round led by pan-African VC firms TLcom Capital and 4DX Ventures. Existing investors Golden Palm Investments, Enza Capital and Lateral Capital along with new backers ASK Capital and Mobility 54 Investment SAS, the venture capital arm of Toyota Tsusho and CFAO Group, also participated.

Autofleet, the Israel-based vehicle-as-a-service platform that focuses on fleets, has had a busy week. The startup raised $20 million in Series B funding led by Keyframe Capital and with participation from Goodyear. Mizmaa Ventures, Maniv Mobility and Next Gear Ventures. Autofleet also locked in a partnership with Fujitsu, which also made a strategic investment in the startup through a corporate venture capital fund managed by its subsidiary Fujitsu Ventures Limited.

ClearFlame Engine Technologies raised $17 million in Series A round led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures with participation from Mercuria, John Deere and Clean Energy Ventures.

Gringo, a Brazilian startup that has built an app aimed at supporting drivers, raised $8 million in a new round of funding led by Kaszek and included participation from GFC and OneVC. Kaszek also led the company's seed round in 2020. The latest investment brings its total raised to $10 million since its 2019 inception.

Hyundai Motor Group has made a strategic investment, which was not disclosed, into solid-state battery technology startup Factorial. Hyundai and Kia have also partnered with Factorial to test its technology. Under the joint development agreement, the companies will integrate Factorial technology at the cell, module, and system levels, perform vehicle-level integration, and co-develop specifications for manufacturing Factorial's batteries.

NI has acquired NH Research, a company provides test instruments and systems for various industries, including electric vehicles and batteries. That transaction, in which the terms were not disclosed, closed October 19, 2021. NI has also agreed to purchase the EV Systems business of Heinzinger GmbH, a European company that makes high-current and high-voltage power systems. This deal is expected to close in Q1 2022.

ProLogium Technology Co., the Taiwanese battery maker, raised $326 million in a funding round with backing from dGav Capital, Primavera Capital Group and SB China Venture Capital, Bloomberg reported.

Skyryse has raised a $200 million Series B round led by Fidelity Management & Research Company and Monashee Investment Management, with additional participation from ArrowMark Partners, Republic Capital, Raptor Group, Infinite Capital, Embedded Ventures, Fortistar, K3 Ventures, Rosecliff, SV Pacific Ventures, Laurence Tosi, and Dmitry Balyasny. Prior investors Venrock, Eclipse Ventures, and Fontinalis Partners also participated. The fresh funding brings the startup's total raised to $250 million.

Smart Eye, a supplier of driver monitoring systems for automakers, agreed to acquire human behavior software company iMotions for $46.6 million just five months after it snapped up emotion-detection software startup Affectiva.

Tactile Mobility, an Israeli startup that uses existing vehicle sensor data to generate insights about the vehicle and the road via its cloud platform, raised a $27 million Series C round led by Delek Motors, with strategic investment from Goodyear Ventures and Porsche Ventures and support from Union Group, The Group Ventures, Zvi Neta (AEV), Giora Ackerstein and Doron Livnat.

Vertical Aerospace secured $205 million in additional financing to help scale production and certification of its electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. Mudrick Capital Management will invest $200 million in Vertical through convertible senior secured notes. Another $5 million is coming from Kouras SA.

Xeal, the EV charging startup founded by Isaacson and Nikhil Bharadwaj, said it raised $11 million in a Series A and disclosed a previously unannounced $3 million seed round. The Series A saw participation from an interesting mix of investors from climate tech and proptech, including ArcTern Ventures and Moderne Ventures, with additional funding from LPC Ventures, the venture arm of Lincoln Property Company, Harrison Street, Hunt Companies and Align Real Estate. The seed round was co-led by Ramez Naam and Pasadena Angels.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery
the-station-delivery

Hello everyone! Welcome back to Policy Corner.

The months-long saga to pass a budget reconciliation bill and an infrastructure bill -- each historic in their own right, each touting trillion dollar price tags -- is far from over.

President Joe Biden unveiled his updated Build Back Better budget plan on Thursday, but the big arm of resistance came from his own party -- more specifically, the progressive wing of the Democrats, who remain insistent that both bills move in tandem through the vote. Because no vote went forward, Biden had to leave for the United Nations Climate Change conference in Glasgow without a robust set of provisions on climate to show off to the other world leaders.

While the budget bill saw some heartbreaking changes -- including a provision that would've established a national paid family leave program -- what's relevant here at The Station is that the expanded electric vehicle incentive for consumers survived the many rounds of revision. A $7,500 consumer tax credit for EVs has been around for a while, but supporters say it's high time for it to be updated.

The major changes include:
• Adding an additional $4,500 credit for EVs made in the U.S. and in union shops
• Adding an additional $500 for EVs made with batteries where at least 50% of the components are U.S.-made
• Removing the cap that limits the credit to manufacturers that have sold less than 200,000 EVs
• Limiting the incentive to EVs that cost under $55,000 for sedans; $69,000 for SUVs; and $74,000 for pickups
• Limiting eligibility for individuals that make under $400,000 per year or $800,000 for joint filers

One of the biggest benefits for the middle class would come in the form of when the incentive actually kicks in. Right now, consumers must claim the credit on their taxes at the end of the year, but under the new language, the discount would be applied upon purchase. It could open up a new EV purchase for many who otherwise couldn't wait for tax time.

The provision has won the support of the Big Three automakers, the United Auto Workers Union, and Sierra Club, amongst others. Opposing the bill are major automakers, including Honda Motor, Hyundai, BMW AG, Volkswagen, Nissan Motor, Tesla and Toyota Motor.

-- Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable news and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

AiMotive, an automated driving technology startup founded in 2015, has opened a new office in Munich that includes a workshop to enable testing and data collection in Germany. Testing is expected to begin in 2022.

Bryan Salesky, co-founder and CEO of Argo AI, has been appointed to the board of PNC Financial Services Group. He has also been appointed to the board's technology subcommittee and its special committee on equity and inclusion. Salesky also serves on the University of Pittsburgh's Board of Trustees.

General Motors CEO and Chair Mary Barra is "pretty confident" that the driver will be out of Cruise vehicles by 2022. The comments were made during GM's third-quarter earnings call and comes at Cruise looks to enter early commercial operations for autonomous robotaxi and delivery services.

GE Appliances has tapped Swedish freight technology company Einride to test the company's electric, autonomous trucks and pods in its Louisville, Kentucky campus. This is the first time Einride's trucks will touch down on U.S. soil, and they'll be used to deliver materials between buildings at GE's Appliance Park.

Starship Technologies is working with North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and its food services provider, Sodexo, to provide the university's food delivery service via autonomous robots. Starship will operate a fleet of 20 autonomous, on-demand robots that will deliver from three campus eateries with a goal to expand additional retail locations by next spring.

Yandex has partnered with the Russian Post to deliver parcels via its autonomous robots. As part of the pilot project, 36 robots will deliver parcels from 27 post offices throughout Moscow. Yandex employees will handle maintenance and support, but the daily loading of parcels and charging and changing of batteries will fall to the Russian Post workers.

Electric vehicles

Arcimoto, makers of the small, electric, three-wheeled Fun Utility Vehicle, is partnering with car sharing company REEF as part of the company's zero-emission vehicle-sharing program. Now, Arcimoto vehicles will be available to rent by the minute in Santa Monica via REEF's platform.

Canoo reached an agreement with Panasonic to supply batteries for its all-electric lifestyle vehicle. The vehicle, which will be manufactured by VDL Nedcar, is scheduled for production in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Ford and Newlab accepted six startups in its inaugural cohort of the Mobility Studio, a program that aims to help these companies pilot a range of services and technologies to help spur more widespread electrical vehicle adoption. The chosen startups include vehicle-as-a-service platform Autofleet, electric grid infrastructure developer Rhombus Energy Solutions, charging-as-a-service company SparkCharge, EV charging hardware and software provider EVPassport and vehicle-to-grid startup Fermata Energy.

General Motors said it will install up to 40,000 electric vehicle chargers across North America as part of a plan to pour nearly $750 million into charging infrastructure that will help attract drivers to its electrified models. Under the program, GM will supply the charging equipment to auto dealers, who will work to identify suitable sites and get the infrastructure installed within their respective communities.

Proterra will supply its H Series battery system technology to Komatsu for the development of battery-electric underground mining vehicles. The aim is to go into commercial production in 2022.

Uber and EV charging and energy management company Wallbox have partnered to give ride-hailing drivers access to at-home charging infrastructure. Wallbox will offer drivers with Uber a discounted package for a charger, installation and the option to finance the package. The pilot program will kick off in the San Francisco Bay Area. If successful, the companies said it will be rolling out to other regions in the US, Canada and globally.

Xponent Power has developed and is now launching a retractable solar awning for RVs. That's neat! According to Xponent, the average RV uses about 7,200 kWh a year of energy. The Xpanse Solar Awning, as it is called, generates more than 1.2kW of solar power to run onboard appliances.

Misc. stuff

Robert Bosch GmbH said it will invest another €400 million ($467 million) to expand its chip manufacturing facilities in response to the ongoing semiconductor shortage. The boosted expenditure, which is earmarked for 2022, will go toward expanding operations at the company's wafer fabrication plants in Dresden and Reutlingen, Germany, and its semiconductor component facility in Penang, Malaysia.

Stellantis has launched a rewards program and app with startup Miles. The new program, called Stellantis Miles, allows customers of Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Fiat or Alfa Romeo vehicles to earn miles for all their travel, not limited to driving. The app was developed in partnership with Miles and available for free download on iOS and Android. Users can redeem their miles for personalized rewards from more than 250 leading retailers, as well as donate their miles to raise money for charity.

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