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SoftBank bets on ex-Argo AI founders, Flexport's founder cleans house and Cruise digs in

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 was packed with news, including in the world of startups — our favorite arena. Before we jump in, let me direct your attention to Friday's Equity Podcast episode and remind y'all that I will be interviewing Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt onstage later this month at Disrupt! I hope to see you all there.

Let's go!


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Micromobbin'

the station scooter1a
the station scooter1a

Paris, the original shared micromobility playground, has officially kicked all of its shared e-scooters out of the city. You might recall in April, the city held a referendum to decide the fate of shared scooters, and the results were overwhelmingly in favor of getting rid of them. Take that with a grain of salt, though, because most of those who showed up to vote were older people who likely see scooters as a menace to society, rather than a green way to get around the city.

Regardless, in September, Lime, Dott and Tier were told to pack up their 15,000 scooters and go. But it's not the end of shared electric mobility in Paris. Now the city is encouraging more e-bike sharing.

I caught up with Wayne Ting, CEO of Lime, who told me that now Lime has even more e-bikes in the city than it ever had scooters.

"I think there's a realization that people need green transportation alternatives, and if we take this choice away from riders, how are they going to access alternatives to get to work or school?" said Ting. "There's a perceived virtue with e-bikes and a different feeling about scooters, but they're essentially the same thing. One just has bigger wheels."

Deal of the week

money the station
money the station

Investors haven't been lining up to invest in autonomous vehicle startups lately. I guess someone forgot to pass along that memo to SoftBank Group.

Bryan Salesky, Peter Rander and Brett Browning -- the trio behind the now-defunct Ford and VW-backed autonomous vehicle startup Argo AI -- have formed a new company called Stack AV that's focused on commercializing self-driving trucks.

And boy oh boy did they get a big check! SoftBank Group is the sole investor in the endeavor, and according to reporting from Bloomberg, the firm invested upward of $1 billion into the startup.

It should be noted that the investment is coming from SoftBank Group, not the SoftBank Vision Fund, which has invested in several AV companies, including Aurora, Cruise, Didi Autonomous, Nuro and Robotic Research. In 2022, GM bought SoftBank Vision Fund's stake in Cruise for $2.1 billion.

Other deals that got my attention this week . . . 

Ascend Elements, U.S.-based manufacturer of battery materials for EVs, raised $542 million in new investments that includes $460 million in a Series D round and $82 million of additional funds from earlier this year. Decarbonization Partners, Singapore-based investment firm Temasek, and Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) led the round. Other investors include Tenaska, Alliance Resource Partners, PULSE - CMA CGM Energy Fund, BHP Ventures, Fifth Wall, Hitachi Ventures, Mirae Asset, At One Ventures, Agave Partners and Alumni Ventures. Important note: The funding will be paired with two U.S. Department of Energy grants totaling $480 million to finance the construction of a factory in Kentucky. 

Autonomy, an EV subscription company, said it will acquire the technology, assets and customer accounts from all-electric vehicle car-sharing company EV Mobility. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Envisics, a U.K.-based holographics company building in-car technology that projects navigation, safety alerts and other data onto the inside of a windshield, closed a $100 million Series C round. The company announced the round's first $50 million tranche in March, which included Hyundai Mobis, with participation from InMotion Ventures (the investment arm of Jaguar Land Rover) and Stellantis. This latest chunk included new investors like M&G Investments.

Land, a Cleveland-based electric motorcycle maker, raised a Series A round that was led by Ancora. The company didn't disclose the amount of the fund except to say it has raised a total of $7 million to date.

Lydian, a Massachusetts-based startup aiming to produce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), has raised $12 million in seed funding from Congruent Ventures and Galvanize Climate Solutions. The startup will use the funds to build a pilot plant capable of producing more than 5,000 gallons of SAF annually.

Notable reads and other tidbits

ADAS

Zeekr, the Chinese performance EV brand owned by Geely, has added Mobileye's SuperVision ADAS to 110,000 of its vehicles through an over-the-air update. New features include point-to-point automated highway navigation, lane changes, automated on/off-ramp assist and intelligent traffic safety functions in "identified operational design domains."

Autonomous vehicles

Cruise made lots of news this week. First up, protesters gathered outside the company's headquarters in San Francisco after reports of one of its robotaxis blocking an ambulance with a patient on board who later died. Despite the San Francisco Fire Department's claims about the Cruise robotaxi blocking the ambulance, video footage says otherwise.

A few days later, CEO Kyle Vogt said during an interview at the Goldman Sachs Tech Conference that the company is close to getting approval from federal regulators to mass-produce robotaxis with no steering wheel or pedals. It's worth noting that Vogt and Cruise have remained steadfast (and vocal) about the benefits of self-driving cars to reduce crashes. That stance hasn't converted opponents. If anything, the anti-robotaxi group in San Francisco seems more motivated than ever.

Deeproute.ai, the Shenzhen-headquartered robotaxi startup backed by Alibaba, plans to open an operations center in Germany in 2024.

TuSimple finally filed its Q4 and full year 2022 earnings report. Yes, you read that correctly. The company was on the verge of being kicked off the stock market for its tardiness but got a temporary reprieve in May. TuSimple still needs to file Q1 and Q2 2023 reports before its deadline of September 30.

The tl;dr: TuSimple continues to shift away from the United States and toward Asia. On the money front, TuSimple brought in revenue of $1.9 million in Q4 and $9.4 million for the full year 2022. The company's net loss for Q4 was $138 million and for FY 2022 was $472 million. TuSimple closed 2022 with $615.4 million in cash and cash equivalents.

The company said it would focus on testing and R&D while trying to get a handle on its loss-making revenue operations. TuSimple doesn't expect to generate significant revenue in 2023, "given its change in the U.S. fleet operations."

Correction: A previous version said the company had shut down U.S. operations. Tusimple has stopped revenue freight operations, but continues on-road testing at its Tucson facility, operating about 15 runs per day depending on the length of the runs, according to a company spokesperson.

Electric vehicles, batteries & charging

Honda confirmed it will use Tesla's EV charging port from 2025.

Lotus revealed its flagship all-electric and super-fast sedan, the Emeya.

Munich's IAA Mobility 2023 event highlighted how far Chinese EV makers have come. Check out our roundup of the European and Chinese vehicles that debuted.

Tesla's yet-to-be released Cybertruck was spotted in a regular ol' parking garage in San Francisco and new photos of the interior were shared.

In-car tech

BMW realized what everyone else already has — charging for heated seats isn't cool.

Google's quarterly Android updates include Zoom and Webex support in cars.

The Polestar 4 will launch in China with its own smartphone.

People

Flexport founder Ryan Petersen is back in the CEO spot after his handpicked successor — Amazon's former consumer chief Dave Clark — was pushed out. The sudden ousting wasn't the end of the drama. Petersen took to social media to announce the company would rescind dozens of employment offers and take other measures to get costs under control. Petersen and the board had bought into Clark's big vision for growth, but that confidence lasted about (checks notes) one year.

Woven by Toyota, the mobility tech subsidiary of the automaker, is shuffling its executive decks. James Kuffner will be replaced by Hajime Kumabe as CEO. Kuffner will now be a "senior fellow" at Toyota, where he will manage the professional development of software engineers.

Grab your pass to TC Disrupt 2023

We’re covering all things sustainable mobility at TechCrunch Disrupt 2023, taking place in San Francisco on September 19–21. Last-minute passes are still available. Save 15% with code STATION. Register now!