A Tesla co-founder returns, TuSimple restructures again and Uber's stickiness strategy
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.
It was another busy week in the transportation world and no surprise, Tesla was one of the headliners. The company held its annual shareholder meeting and as per ushe, CEO Elon Musk shared tidbits and musings about the company. While some of this was rehashing old information, there were a number of notable and newsmaker moments.
Top of the list? JB Straubel, a Tesla co-founder and former CTO, has returned as a board member.
Other items that got my attention included another delay for the next-gen Roadster, hints of two upcoming EV products and Musk's decision to "try a little advertising." Here's a roundup of our coverage.
Speaking of Musk, he lost another bid to end a 2018 settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that requires oversight of some of his Tesla-related tweets. The upshot: The Twitter sitter (as some have described the role) must remain.
Alrighty, then. Onward!
Want to reach out with a tip, comment or complaint? Email me at email@example.com. You also can send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec
Reminder that you can drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you prefer to remain anonymous, click here to contact us, which includes SecureDrop (instructions here) and various encrypted messaging apps.
May is Bike Month and Friday was National Bike to Work Day, two reminders that bikes are not just for sports and recreation -- they're a viable form of transit. That's especially true for e-bikes, so don't let someone tell you you're cheating if you don't ride a push bike to work.
But remember, e-bikes and e-scooters should be treated with care and responsibility.
A shocking video of an e-scooter catching fire in a London home has been going around. The owner of the scooter bought it off Gumtree (a Craigslist-type site) and was charging it inside when the battery caught fire, which spread rapidly. This is a PSA for safe e-scooter practices!
Here are tips and best practices on owning and storing a scooter. A few that are especially important:
Buy a scooter from a reputable company that equips its vehicles with batteries that are compliant with global standards.
Don't charge batteries overnight while you're asleep or while you're away from home.
Don't dispose of batteries in household waste or normal recycling. Find a battery recycling service.
Avoid storing and charging e-scooters and e-bikes on escape routes or communal areas of multi-occupied buildings.
And with that, onto the news nuggets ...
BackPedal is a new British startup that offers e-bike theft protection via a monthly subscription. Included in that subscription are things like an integrated GPS system with LTE and a retrieval team that tracks your stolen bike and calls the cops for you. My question for the company: Do the cops — who are busy these days with increased crime in major cities -- actually do anything to help people retrieve bikes?
A study commissioned by Bolt found that about half of residents in the Netherlands, Germany and Portugal want to see more micromobility parking spots and fewer car parking spots. Same.
Christchurch, New Zealand, might be the first city in the country to back a campaign for e-bike subsidies.
Citi Bike has been around for 10 years. The iconic bike-sharing program has been a staple in NYC and other cities since before it belonged to Lyft.
General Motors, in partnership with SAIC-Wuling in China, is building a super cute tiny electric pickup for the Chinese market that's expected to cost around $14,000. It's about the size of a Fiat 500, and potentially a great solution for urban tradespeople.
India is considering slashing its electric two-wheeler subsidies from 40% of the sale price to 15%, ostensibly to spread the incentive to a larger number of vehicles (link to paywall site).
New York City announced a $30 million RFP to create and sustain high-quality public spaces, like plazas and Open Streets, in under-resourced neighborhoods.
As I mentioned last week, there have been rumors floating around about Tier pondering an acquisition. This week, Sifted reported that European transportation super app Bolt is in late-stage acquisition talks with Tier. Tier had reportedly also been in M&A talks with Lime, but those talks ended, according to Sifted, which cited a source close to the company. I reached out to Tier, but no comment. The company only confirmed that it recently raised a convertible note from the majority of its existing investors.
"We are well financed for 2023 and we are aiming to achieve EBITDA profitability this year," Lawrence Leuschner, Tier's CEO, told TechCrunch.
Yamaha announced a limited-edition e-bike to celebrate its 30th year of e-bike building. The YDX-MORO 07, priced at $6,499, has a dual twin frame design that holds Yamaha's new, lighter and smaller PW-X3 drive unit with powerful torque. It's an all-mountain bike that has compact control switches, a minimalist display and one-finger braking power.
Deal of the week
Instead of highlighting one deal this week, how about dozens of deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars?
Automotive-related startups raised $402 million from investors in April, up about 2% from the previous month, according to a report from Automotive News. That flatish result is actually worth cheering because investor activity has been falling since the beginning of the year.
In January, automotive-related startups raised $1.16 billion. That figure dropped to $690.5 million in February and $394.1 million in March.
This doesn't mean everything is unicorns and rainbows now. The chaos surrounding the Silicon Valley Bank may have ebbed, but mobility startups are competing for investor attention and capital as other buzzy areas like generative AI takeover.
Other deals that got my attention this week ...
Bird has decided to issue a reverse stock split, in an attempt to get back into compliance with the New York Stock Exchange after it received a delisting notice for trading too low. Bird's stock closed Thursday at $0.11. When the market opened Friday, Bird began trading on a 1/25 split-adjusted basis. As of May 1, there were about 286.8 million shares of Class A common stock and 34.5 million shares of Class X common stock. After the reverse stock split, Bird will have about 11.5 million Class A shares and about 1.4 million Class X shares.
Brompton, a U.K.-based company that makes folding bikes, raised £19 million equity capital with investor BGF taking a minority stake.
Ethernovia, an automotive ethernet chip startup based in Silicon Valley, raised $64 million in a Series A funding round from a group of investors that includes Porsche Automobil Holding, Qualcomm Ventures and VentureTech Alliance.
Phantom Auto raised $25 million from private equity firm InfraBridge. The remote driving startup's pre-raise valuation was $500 million, according to one source. And the CEO of ConGlobal, the rail terminal operator that is owned by InfraBridge and a customer of the startup, has joined the board.
Robert Bosch Venture Capital, the corporate venture capital entity of the Bosch Group, completed an investment in AutoCore.ai, a startup that develops automotive middleware. The company didn't disclose the investment amount.
Stellantis acquired a 33.3% stake in Symbio, a zero-emission hydrogen mobility company. Faurecia and Michelin will remain shareholders with 33.3% holding each.
Toyota Research Institute said its collaborative research program with U.S. academic institutions has funded $100 million of research and generated more than 1,250 paper submissions since its inception in 2016.
Volvo Cars' venture fund invested an undisclosed amount into smart home energy company dcbel.
Notable reads and other tidbits
Alibaba said its autonomous vehicle lab, which is under its Damo Academy, will merge into Cainiao, the company's global logistics network. The lab will no longer operate under the basic research institute.
Cruise and Waymo are on the cusp of securing final approval to charge fares for fully autonomous robotaxi rides throughout the city of San Francisco at all hours of the day or night. The California Public Utilities Commission published two draft resolutions late last week that would grant the companies the ability to extend the hours of operation and service areas of their now-limited robotaxi services.
Ouster will supply May Mobility with lidar to power May's autonomous vehicles.
TuSimple, the once high-flying autonomous trucks company that went public in 2021, is restructuring and laying off about 30% of its global workforce as it works to preserve cash and stay in business. One of the more interesting pieces of this restructuring (the second in six months) was the decision to keep its China subsidiary. The company was also at risk of being delisted from Nasdaq, but received a temporary reprieve from the exchange.
Electric vehicles, batteries and charging
BMW is working with Pacific Gas and Electric to test vehicle-to-grid technology to offset growing grid demand.
Mercedes-Benz Vans revealed more details on a new fully scalable electric vehicle architecture, called Van.EA. The new platform will be able to support a range of sizes, including midsize luxury vans and full-size cargo and camper vans. The first vans built on this platform will come to market in 2026.
QuantumScape, the solid-state battery company, is (sort of) pivoting. The company said it is planning to focus more on the consumer-electronics sector in an effort to bring in the capital it needs to commercialize automotive-grade cells.
Volvo said its upcoming all-electric EX30 small SUV will have a slew of safety features, including a driver monitoring system that detects eye and face movements around 13 times per second and an alert to help prevent drivers or passengers from opening their car door in front of bicyclists.
BMW also worked with Meta's Reality Labs to explore how AR and VR can work inside a fast-moving vehicle.
Hyundai and Kia settled a class action lawsuit brought by owners of vehicles prone to theft for around $200 million. The trend of stealing Kias came from a viral TikTok "Kia Challenge" that provided demos for how to easily steal affected models in less than 90 seconds using a USB charging cord.
The U.S. International Trade Commission voted to institute an investigation into the unfair trade practices of Hesai Group based in Shanghai, China, following a patent infringement complaint from Ouster.
Austin Russell, the billionaire founder of lidar company Luminar, is getting into the media business. Yup, you read that correctly. Russell, through a consortium of foreign investors, is buying Forbes.
Autonomy, an EV subscription company, hired Leopold Visser as senior vice president of strategy and operations.
Flexport hired Bill Driegert, a former Amazon executive who previously headed Uber Freight, to develop the company's trucking product.
Lyft has hired Erin Brewer, formerly of Charles Schwab & Co., as its next CFO. Elaine Paul is left the top financial position May 19. Lisa Blackwood-Kapral, the Lyft's Chief Accounting Officer, will serve as interim CFO and principal financial officer until Brewer takes over July 10.
Mercedes-Benz USA appointed Melody Lee as chief marketing officer, Heike Scheuble as managing director of Mercedes-Benz Vans and Jee-Seop Kim as head of customer services.
Ride-hailing and other gig economy stuff
Lyft shareholders sent out a letter rallying other shareholders to vote against co-founder Logan Green's position on the board. They argue he failed to address and rectify dangerous rideshare driver conditions.
Uber and Lyft drivers in Washington State officially have a right to paid family and medical leave, now that Governor Jay Inslee has signed HB 1570.
Uber held its annual Go-Get product event in New York City this week and the bevy of announcements showed a company hoping to grow through products and expanded consumer groups that reach every member of a family. In short: Uber wants its app to be sticky. Its plan includes opening the app up to teens, adding a group grocery feature and providing a 1(800) number for customers who don't want to use the app at all to hail a ride.
Calling all early-stage startups! Apply to join the Startup Battlefield 200 cohort at TechCrunch Disrupt 2023. All finalists get expert training, VC networking, a booth at Disrupt, and the chance to compete for $100,000 in equity-free funds. Applications close May 31. Apply today!