The Station - TuSimple co-founders clapback, consolidation continues and Waymo reaches two milestones

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By Kirsten Korosec

Sunday, November 13, 2022

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 coming week I will be heading to Los Angeles to check out the LA Auto Show as well as a few EV and AV related events. Maybe I’ll see some of you there!

Let’s get right to it.

Got a news tip or inside information about a topic we covered? I'd love to hear from you. You can reach at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. Or 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

Taur, a scooter company we wrote about in February, has launched its virtual showroom, a very cool interactive website that allows prospective scooter buyers to virtually test out different aspects of the scooter, from how to set up the foot platforms and activate the throttle to how to turn on the lights and charge the battery.

I recently got the opportunity to try out one of Taur’s front-facing scooters, and I’ll admit it’s a very cool ride. The scooter doesn’t have a traditional board for your feet to balance on, but rather has a foot deck that lets riders face forward while riding. I found that this gave me greater visibility of my peripherals — having my left foot in front of my right on a traditional kick scooter meant I could see to my right quite well, but had less range of motion to look over my left shoulder. Whereas, facing forward on a Taur scooter meant I had equal range of motion to look over each shoulder.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the ride was that it didn’t even feel like I was riding a scooter. It almost felt like I was riding a moped or a bike (maybe something to do with being front facing?) I kept mistakenly calling it “a great bike” — a term co-founder Carson Brown and head of marketing Ed Turner said they were also hearing from others. It might be more accurate to say that the movement of riding Taur’s scooter was similar to the movement of skiing, where you turn by pushing your weight off each foot, rather than by angling the handlebars. This gave me a better feeling of control and a sense that I could do some serious shredding on this thing.

The fat tires certainly made for a bouncy experience. I rode the scooter over uneven roads in a parking lot in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and once I got used to the jostling, I felt safe enough to brave the meanest of potholes.

Taur is focusing on launching in Los Angeles this year and will be running pop ups there over the next few months. The startup has almost 1,000 units to ship to LA this year to fulfill pre-orders and general sales.

In other news …

Amazon and other retailers are facing criticism for selling devices that allow e-bikes to be upgraded to illegal speeds for as little as $100.

Bird is apparently launching in Qatar, which is weird because the company recently said it was exiting several dozen cities around the world, including in the Middle East.

Honda is developing and testing a range of micromobility vehicles equipped with “cooperative intelligence,” a technology that combines cameras, voice recognition, AI and standard controls to enable more “human-like” cooperation between people and the vehicles. The vehicles would be able to generate a 3D map of their surroundings in real time.

Kona has launched three new e-bikes built around SR Suntour hub motors: the Dew HD city bike ($1,999), the Coco HD low-step hybrid ($1,999), and the Rove HD drop handlebar adventure bike ($2,199).

Lime is partnering with Innov8 and Gouach, two French companies specializing in connected tech products and lithium-ion batteries, respectively, to give a second life to Lime vehicle batteries. Lime will work with the companies to recycle and reuse batteries that can no longer fuel shared transportation by putting them into portable consumer battery packs for cell phones and other devices.

Livall has launched Pikaboost, a simple conversion kit to quickly and easily turn any bike into an e-bike. The Pikaboost includes everything you’d need in a single 6.6 lb unit — a 234 Wh battery, a 250W electric motor and a locking mechanism that secures the unit to the bike seat post. The unit drops a small rubber wheel onto the rear tire to deliver up to 18 miles of pedal assist. The price is planned for $599, but Livall is still raising funds for production through a crowdfunding campaign where early birds can get the unit for $299.

Niu has launched a new urban commuter e-bike, the BQi-C3 Pro. The step-through bike has a top speed of 28 mph and a 40- to 60-mile range due to two 920 WH lightweight swappable LG batteries.

Radio Flyer launched the Flyer Cruiser, a classic-looking bike with both 5-level pedal assist and a thumb throttle. The Flyer can travel up to 20 mph and up to 50 miles on a single charge. It’s also built with a rear cargo rack to attach your favorite accessories.

Revel is taking its e-mopeds out of Washington D.C. The company said it wanted to focus its attention on growing out its electric ridehail and EV charging businesses.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

The wave of consolidation that has affected the autonomous vehicle industry has extended to lidar companies as well. For example, take this week’s merger of Ouster and Velodyne — two lidar companies that separately went public via special purpose acquisition companies.

Under this all-stock transaction, both Ouster and Velodyne will maintain a 50% stake in the new company.

Why are lidar companies sucked up into this wave of consolidation? Too many lidar companies are competing for a sliver of business from OEMs. (That whole supply-demand problem). Scaling up is also an expensive endeavor.

Velodyne and Ouster have each snapped up lidar companies prior to this merger. Velodyne acquired in 2022  Bluecity.ai, and last year, Ouster bought lidar startup Sense Photonics.

What lidar company is next?

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Acerta Analytics, an advanced analytics company that helps automakers and suppliers improve quality in manufacturing processes and support early defect detection, raised $10.4 million CAD. The Series B round was led by BDC Capital’s Industrial Innovation and Thrive Venture Funds with participation from existing investors OMERS Ventures and StandUp Ventures.

Busbud, an intercity bus booking company, merged with software-as-a-service reservation and ticketing company Betterez. The merger is backed by Amadeus Ventures.

Elon Musk nearly $4 billion worth of Tesla shares. Meanwhile, Musk is headed to court next week to defend his $56 billion Tesla pay package. Richard Tornetta, a Tesla shareholder who filed suit in 2019 to rescind Musk's 2018 pay deal, claims the package  is unjustly paid to Musk without demanding he focus entirely on the carmaker.

Foxconn increased its investment in EV startup Lordstown Motors by buying $170 million in common stock and newly created preferred shares. Once the deal is complete, Foxconn will hold all of Lordstown's outstanding preferred stock and 18.3% of its common stock on a pro forma basis. Foxconn will also have the right to two board seats.

Kyte, the rental car delivery startup founded in 2019, raised $60 million in Series B round led by InterAlpen Partners, whose founder, Stephen George is joining Kyte’s Board. Other new investors include Valor Equity Partners, Anthemis, Citi Ventures, and Hearst Ventures, with significant participation from existing investors DN Capital plus 1984 Ventures, FJ Labs, and Urban Innovation Fund. This round brings Kyte’s total funding to approximately $300 million across equity and debt.

Ritchie Bros Auctioneers, the Canada-based heavy industrial equipment company, is buying U.S.-based vehicle marketplace IAA in a cash-and-stock deal valued at about $7.3 billion, including debt.

Turbi, a Brazilian startup that rents cars, raised nearly $20 million through an asset-backed debt to double the number of cars in its fleet and expand its pickup points.

 

Notable reads and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Aurora is partnering with Ryder to pilot on-site fleet maintenance at Aurora’s terminal in South Dallas, a step closer to building out the network Aurora will need as it moves towards commercialization.

TuSimple co-founder Xiaodi Hou was fired earlier month from his CEO, president and CTO posts by the company’s board. That move might have stripped Huo of power —he was even removed from his position as chairman of the board and member of the board’s government security committee. But it didn’t immobilize him.

Hou teamed up with co-founder and major shareholder Mo Chen and fired board members Brad Buss, Karen C. Francis, Michelle Sterling and Reed Werner. Hou became the sole remaining member of the board; he then appointed Chen and Cheng Lu, a shareholder and the former CEO, to the board.

While power now rests back in the hands of the co-founders, it’s unclear how this will affect an investigation into the company by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Securities and Exchange Commission and Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS). The investigation is apparently focused on TuSimple’s relationship with Hydron, a hydrogen-powered trucking company led by Chen and backed by Chinese investors.


Waymo reached two milestones this past week.

The company opened up its fully driverless ride-hail service in downtown Phoenix to the general publicAnd the California Department of Motor Vehicles approved an amendment to Waymo's existing deployment permit to include driverless, as well as drivered, operations. Waymo will now be able to charge for food and grocery delivery using its autonomous vehicles, which will operate without anyone in the driver's seat. All Waymo needs now is a driverless deployment permit from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to finally start charging for rider-only autonomous rides in the city.

Earnings

Arrival said in its Q3 earnings that it doesn’t expect to earn revenue until after 2023. Yes, I said REVENUE. The EV company, which is restructuring its business to develop commercial vans for the U.S. instead of Europe and is at risk of being delisted from the Nasdaq exchange, reported a third-quarter loss of $310.3 million, compared with a $30.6 million loss for the same period a year ago.

Canoo said in its Q3 earnings that it entered into an agreement to acquire a vehicle manufacturing facility in Oklahoma City. This shouldn’t be confused with Canoo’s "megamicro factory" in Pryor, Oklahoma. This other  facility will help Canoo ramp production and bring EVs to market in 2023. Another item of note in Q3: Canoo closed out the quarter with cash and cash equivalents of $6.8 million. 😬

Gogoro’s Q3 earnings show the company earned $102.2 million, which is up from $90.7 million last quarter. The company said its revenue would have been up to $9.2 million higher had foreign exchange rates remained constant. The company closed the quarter with a net income of $56.4 million. Gogoro’s total subscribers at the end of the third quarter was more than 505,000, up 20.8% from last year.

Lyft reported a net loss of $422.2 million in the Q3. Nearly one third of that loss ($135.7 million) was due to the shutdown of Argo AI, which Lyft had a small stake in.

Polestar said in its Q3 earnings that it is still on track to deliver 50,000 cars worldwide this year. The company reported a third-quarter operating loss of $196.4 million, down from $292.9 million for the year-ago period. Revenue more than doubled to $435.4 million, from $212.9 million. Polestar forecasts full-year revenue of $2.4 billion,

Rivian affirmed that the company is on track to hit its annual production target of 25,000 vehicles despite unpredictable supply chain crunches and component shortages. The company is still losing money and has had to adjust some of its plans for growth. Rivian reported a net loss of $1.72 billion on revenue of $536 million in Q3 and delayed the launch of its next-generation R2 EV platform.

Electric vehicles, batteries & charging

Audi and Redwood Materials are teaming up to collect end-of-life batteries from cell phones, electric toothbrushes and other lithium-ion-powered devices at participating dealerships nationwide.

California voters shot down Proposition 30, which would have made EVs more affordable for some residents, dealing a blow to Lyft and the EV industry alike. Prop 30 would have taxed residents making more than $2 million a year to subsidize electric cars and public charging stations as well as funded wildfire prevention programs.

Maserati is applying what it learned developing a vehicle for Formula E to its first passenger EV, the 2024 Maserati GranTurismo Folgore.

Tesla opened up its EV connector design to automakers and suppliers. The aim? Tesla wants to be the new standard in North America. Separately, Zoom said it is working with Tesla to bring video conferencing into its vehicles. (Zoom meetings would only be possible when the vehicle is parked).

Volvo unveiled the EX90, a flagship electric seven-passenger SUV loaded with sensors and software that the company hopes will push it ahead in an increasingly saturated luxury EV market. Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell shared his thoughts about the EX90 (the company’s lidar is integrated into the EV) and called it a new era of safety. He also addresses consolidation in the marketplace and struggles within the AV industry.

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