Category: Automotive

The Station: Yandex spins out self-driving biz, Ike takes the SaaS road and a solid-state battery startup strikes SPAC

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

As summer comes to an end, deals have lagged a skosh ahead of what promises to be a busy fall. And while the news cycle continues, there has been a slight dip in intensity. Sounds like a good time to take a break, no? Yup, it is. Next week, there will not be an issue of the newsletter. Don’t worry, it will return Sept. 19.

Email me anytime at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Alright let’s get to it. First up, deals!

Deal of the week

money the station

Deals, we got em. And this week, a new SPAC stands out. Yup, you knew it. I knew it; we all knew another SPAC was coming. Some SPAC merger announcements feel like a desperate attempt by young unproven companies to access capital. That’s not the case this week.

QuantumScape, the solid-state battery company backed by Volkswagen Group, agreed to merge with a special purpose acquisition company Kensington Capital Acquisition Corp. The merger will give QuantumScape a post-deal market valuation of $3.3 billion.

QuantumScape is not a fledgling startup. It’s been around for decade, attracting attention and capital early on from high-profile venture firms like Kleiner Perkins  and Khosla Ventures. Volkswagen entered the picture in 2012 and has invested a total of $300 million in QuantumScape, including $200 million this year.

QuantumScape is going after the capitally intensive goal of attempting to commercialize solid-state batteries for electric vehicles. Solid-state batteries use a solid electrolyte and not a liquid or gel-based electrolyte found in lithium-ion batteries. Developers claim that solid electrolytes have greater energy density, which translates into squeezing more range out of a smaller and lighter battery. Solid electrolytes also are supposed to be better at thermal management, reducing the risk of fire and the reliance on the kinds of cooling systems found in today’s EVs.

Other deals that got my attention … (seems a little light this week, no?)

Geely Automobile Holdings plans to raise 20 billion yuan ($2.93 billion) from a public share sale on Shanghai’s STAR Market, funds that will be used to invest in new car models and technologies, Reuters reported.

Zomato, the Indian food delivery startup, has raised $62 million from Temasek, resuming a financing round that it originally expected to close in January this year. Singapore’s state investment arm Temasek financed the capital through its unit MacRitchie Investments, a regulatory filing showed.

AV spotlight: Yandex

the station autonomous vehicles1

Coverage of automated vehicle technology companies tends to focus on U.S.-based efforts. Rest assured, there is action elsewhere. Yandex, the publicly traded Russian tech giant that started as a search engine, is one of those companies.

The company has expanded into a number of other, related areas (similar to U.S. counterpart Google) including automated vehicle technology. In January, I rode in their self-driving vehicle (with no human behind the wheel) during a demo on public streets of Las Vegas during CES. I’ve never been a huge fan of demos as it can help companies hide problems with their tech. Yandex’s demo was notable however. The vehicle moved confidently, maybe even aggressively, as it maneuvered around a bus that had stopped in the roadway, it handled left turns as well as a parking garage with ease. (this GIF from Yandex is of a drive in Moscow, fyi)

I mention all of this background because Yandex said this week it is spinning out its self-driving car unit from MLU BV — a ride-hailing and food delivery joint venture it operates in partnership with Uber. The move comes amid reports that Yandex  and Uber were eyeing up an IPO for MLU last year. At the time, the JV was estimated to be valued at around $7.7 billion.

As part of the spin-out, Yandex is investing $150 million into the business, a sum that will include $100 million in equity, plus $50 million in the form of a convertible loan. Yandex is buying out some of Uber’s shares in this process and will now have a 73% stake in the spun-out business, with Uber owning 19%. The remaining 8% will be owned by Yandex self-driving group (SDG) management and employees. Yandex said it has invested some $65 million in the business up to now.

Spinning out the unit could help improve the unit economics and cost base of the MLU unit, as TechCrunch editor Ingrid Lunden noted in her report. But Yandex says that it’s being done to double down on a more focused investment in self-driving.

A different kind of EV startup

the station electric vehicles1

This isn’t an electric vehicle startup; it’s more like EV adjacent. And it’s an app!

A number of apps have popped over the past several years — in step with Tesla’s rising popularity. Most aim to let drivers track and plan their routes and often have a social component. Tezlab is a good example, and I’ve written about them before. 

The one I want to introduce you to is called Nikola. The app launched in 2018 as a hobby project of David Hodge, who founded a mass transit app called Embark, which Apple acquired in 2013. Hodge stayed at Apple for several years and then went to Stripe. But the Nikola app compelled him to go out on his own again.

This week, Hodge launched Nikola 2.0. Here’s the gist: Nikola 2.0 is a subscription-based app that provides health monitoring of the owner’s Tesla (just Teslas for now, but Hodge aims to expand).

Nikola app - EVs

Image Credits: Nikola

The app, which is only in iOS right now, gives the user information on battery level trends, efficiency, energy consumption, top and average speed as well as stats on weekly ghost drain and driving and charging history, which can be exported for tax or expense report purposes. Users can also check their battery level with the Nikola Apple Watch complication and compare their performance to other Tesla drivers with Nikola Fleet Stats.

What I am interested in is this other new feature called the Nikola report. It is like a Carfax report that an EV owner can share with prospective buyers when they go to sell their electric vehicle. The data collection for the Nikola report feature is just now getting started.

Notable reads and other tidbits

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Welcome to the roundup section of the newsletter …

Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, is selling personal hand straps that can be quickly thrown onto poles in the train car for folks would rather not touch any surfaces.

GM and Ford have fulfilled their separate multi-million-dollar ventilator contracts — together delivering 80,000 of the devices to the U.S. government.

GM and Honda signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding to establish an automotive alliance in North America. The deal brings together two automakers that have a long established history of working together. The companies will share vehicle platforms, which will be sold under their respective and distinct brands, as well as cooperate in purchasing, research and development and connected services.

Ike, the automated trucking startup, had some big news this week. Ryder, DHL and NFI have chosen Ike as their automated driving technology provider. These fleets, and some others the company has not yet announced, have collectively reserved the first 1,000 trucks powered by its technology.

The startup also lifted the hood, so to speak, on their business model. Ike is taking a SaaS approach to automated vehicle technology.  The company explained in a blog post this week that it will sell a Software as a Service subscription to fleets. Customers will buy trucks equipped with Ike’s validated automation system from its OEM manufacturing partners. Automated trucks will be owned and operated by fleets and “Powered by Ike,” the post read.

REMINDER! Nancy Sun, the co-founder and chief engineer of Ike, will be on our virtual stage for the TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 event October 6 and 7. If you’ve never heard of Sun, or listened to her, be prepared to be impressed. The event is shaping up to be pretty great and we have a few more speakers left to announce.

Lucid Motors, which is set to reveal the Air on September 9, keeps dropping bits of info on the luxury electric vehicle. This time, Lucid announced that the Air is capable of a 9.9-second quarter mile. That’s faster than a Tesla Model S and faster than most production cars on the market.

Metromile, a pay-per-mile insurance company, said it’s teaming up with Ford Motor to provide owners of Ford vehicles equipped with built-in connectivity with personalized car insurance.

Tesla didn’t make it into the S&P 500 as so many had predicted. Tesla fans took to Twitter on Friday to gripe about the decision that welcomed Etsy, Teradyne and Catalan into the S&P.

Torc Robotics and its parent company Daimler Trucks, announced plans to expand their joint self-driving truck on-road testing to New Mexico this month and establish a test center in the Albuquerque area.

The U.S. government rolled out a new online tool designed to give the public insight into where and who is testing automated vehicle technology throughout the country. The official name of the online tool is the Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing Initiative tracking tool. While the design is simple and straightforward, it’s incomplete since it is based off of information that companies have volunteered. Let’s hope this is the beginning of what will become a comprehensive one-stop shop of all automated vehicle technology in the country.

VanMoof, the e-bike company is opening a store in Seattle — its third in the United States. The expansion illustrates the company’s growth, which has accelerated since March as sales of e-bikes in the U.S. popped 85% compared with the same month a year earlier.

Volkswagen released teaser images of its upcoming all-electric ID.4 compact SUV that shows what might just be a nice balance between tech and old timely toggles and buttons. Could this be the Goldilocks story of the EV world? I will find out later this month. Stay tuned.

The Station: Luminar takes the SPAC path and Voyage lifts the hood on its next-gen robotaxi

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

I’ll skip the typical wind up and get right to things this week. We’ve got SPACs, venture deals and micromobility news along with a peek at one AV company’s newest vehicle.

I wanted to mention one item before we launch because it speaks to a larger issue of safety and how some shared mobility startups are turning to tech in an attempt to improve it.

Shared electric moped startup Revel resumed operations in New York City a month after shutting down its service following several deaths. The startup’s blue mopeds (3,000 of them) that had become a familiar sight in New York City are back, but with a number of new protocols and features aimed at boosting safety and assuaging city officials. Revel is leaning heavily on tech, and specifically its app, to improve safety, including training videos and tests, a helmet selfie feature that requires photographic evidence the user is wearing a helmet and a community reporting tool. The question is, will this effort be sufficient?

Revel moped

Image credits: Getty

Alright, let’s go!

Email me anytime at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Remember last week when I told y’all about California Assembly Bill 1286? Here’s a quick refresher: the bill passed the Assembly in 2019 and moved over to committee within the Senate. It sat untouched until this month, when it popped up and passed a committee vote, an action that sent it to the full Senate.

To say the micromobility industry was caught off guard, might be an understatement. The action set off alarm bells and a coalition of micromobility companies, advocacy groups and bike share operators sent a letter to Senate leadership arguing that the bill was an existential threat to shared micromobility in the state. The group was specifically concerned with a line in the bill that would prohibit companies from putting a liability waiver in the user agreement.

That language was removed this week, prompting at least a few emails with comments like “micromobility in California has been saved.”


The National Association of Transportation Officials released its annual report on the growth and use of shared micromobility such as bike share, e-bike share and scooter share in the United States. This report focuses on 2019 ridership data, however, NACTO also weighs in a bit on the first half of 2020.

The study found that people in the U.S. took 136 million trips on bikes and scooters in 2019 — a 60% increase from the previous year. Of those trips, 40 million were on station-based bike share systems. The remaining 96 million trips were on dockless systems with 10 million on ebikes and 86 million on scooters.

That doesn’t mean it was a balanced picture. NACTO reported that scooter expansion was in some cases unstable as companies exited markets at the end of the year (prior to the pandemic), possibly due to over-competition and other market pressures.

NACTO report micromobility

Image Credits: NACTO

Shared micromobility trips were on average 11 to 12 minutes long and for a distance of 1 to 1.5 miles. Short trips are important, NACTO said in its report, noting that 35% of all U.S. car trips are under 2 miles.

Adam Kovacevich, Lime’s head of North America and APAC Government Affairs, called the numbers “eye popping” in an emailed statement, adding that “People are voting with their feet, and they clearly want more scooters and dockless bikes in their cities.”


We’re not finished yet; one more item of note. Jump returned to the Sacramento region on Saturday. Through an agreement with SACOG, Lime said it is now the “exclusive” regional bikeshare operator for the region.

Deal of the week

money the station

Luminar, the lidar startup founded in 2012 by whiz kid and Thiel fellow Austin Russell, has taken the SPAC path to the public markets. SUMMER OF THE SPAC CONTINUES!

The lidar startup announced it was merging with special purpose acquisition company Gores Metropoulos Inc., with a post-deal market valuation of $3.4 billion. The SPAC merger comes just three months after Luminar hit a critical milestone and announced that Volvo would start producing vehicles in 2022 equipped with its lidar and a perception stack. Volvo plans to use the Luminar technology to deploy an automated driving system for highways in its production vehicles.

Image Credits: Luminar

Russell told me in a recent interview that they wanted to go public at some point, but the momentum from the Volvo deal along with interest within public markets led the company to take the SPAC route.

Luminar is the latest startup — and second lidar company — to turn to SPACs this summer in lieu of a traditional IPO process. In June, Velodyne Lidar struck a deal to merge with special purpose acquisition company Graf Industrial Corp., with a market value of $1.8 billion. Four electric vehicle startups have also skipped the traditional IPO path in recent months, opting instead to go public through a merger agreement with a SPAC, which are also known as blank check companies. Canoo, Fisker Inc., Lordstown Motors and Nikola Corp. have gone public via a SPAC merger this spring and summer. Shift Technologies, an online used car marketplace, also used a SPAC to go public.


xpeng

Image Credits: Xpeng via Weibo

Meanwhile, Chinese electric automaker Xpeng Inc. made its public market debut the old-fashioned way. Although this traditional IPO path still packed in some unexpected financial thrills. Despite escalating tensions between the U.S. and China, the company raised more than it expected in its initial public offering.

Xpeng, which began trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol XPEV, said in a filing that it sold 99.7 million shares for $15 each, raising about $1.5 billion through its initial public offering. The automaker had originally planned to sell 85 million shares with a price guidance of between $11 and $13.

Xpeng will need the capital. The company faces an increasingly crowded pool of electric automakers in China, including Tesla, Li Auto and Nio. Shares of Xpeng closed up at $22.79 on Friday.

Other deals that got my attention …

CoPilot, a mobile app for buying and owning vehicles, raised $10 million in a new Series A funding round led by Next Coast Ventures, with participation from Max Levchin’s SciFi Ventures and Arthur Patterson, co-founder of Accel Partners, along with existing investors Chicago Ventures. The investment brings the company’s total outside funding to $17 million.

curbFlow, a curb management startup that uses a network of computer vision devices to detect available parking spots, raised $8 million in seed stage funding led by General Catalyst and Initialized Capital. Doordash is its first paying customer. Keep an eye out for a longer piece on curbFlow; I interviewed the founder Ali Vahabzadeh about the startup and where he sees it evolving. If the name Ali Vahabzadeh sounds familiar, it should. He is the co-founder and former CEO of Chariot, the on-demand shuttle service that Ford acquired and then killed off.

Delivery Hero, the Berlin-based restaurant delivery company that operates mainly in emerging markets, acquired Dubai-based grocery delivery platform InstaShop. The acquisition values the company at $360 million, $270 million upfront plus an additional $90 million based on InstaShop meeting certain growth targets, according to the company. Investors in InstaShop are surely celebrating right now. The five year-old startup had raised just $7 million before being acquired.

Firefly, which offers Uber and Lyft drivers a digital display to make extra money by running ads, acquired Strong Outdoor. The company said it has also become the advertising partner for fleet operator Sally.

Fox Robotics, the Austin-based startup that builds automated forklifts, raised $9 million in a Series A round led by Menlo Ventures. The latest round brings its total funding to date up to $13 million, with support from previous investors Eniac, Famiglia, SignalFire, Congruent, AME and Joe.

Motiv Power Systems, a company that builds all-electric chassis and software systems for the electrification of medium-duty trucks and buses, said it has secured $15 million in additional funding from GMAG Holdings Corp. The company that the funding will be made by means of convertible notes that are expected to be converted into a Series C funding round, which Motiv is in the process of raising.

Shopmonkey, a San Jose, Calif.-based SaaS startup that serves auto repair shops, raised $25 million in a Series B funding round led by Bessemer Venture Partners with participation from Index Ventures, e.ventures and I2BF.

Zoomo, a three-year-old electric bike platform marketed to gig economy delivery workers, raised $11 million from a Series A funding round led by Australian Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Zoomo was actually Bolt Bikes until this past week. The company announced its new name along with its funding round. The round also included equity from Hana Ventures and existing investors Maniv Mobility and Contrarian Ventures, together with venture debt from OneVentures and Viola Credit.

People: layoffs, hiring and moves

It’s been a minute since I wrote about hirings and firings and such. Two bits of hiring news got my attention this week.

Rivian electric vehicles

Image credit: Rivian

First up, Bloomberg reported that Rivian hired former Tesla executive Nick Kalayjian to lead its engineering. Kalayjian is replacing Mark Vinnels, a former executive a McLaren Automotive.

You might recall that relations between Rivian and Tesla are a bit prickly at the moment. Tesla filed a lawsuit in July against Rivian and four former employers on claims of poaching talent and stealing trade secrets. Specifically, Tesla claimed that Rivian instructed a recently departed Tesla employee about the types of confidential information it needed.

Rivian recently fired back. Rivian filed motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that two of the three claims in the case fail to state sufficient allegations of trade-secret theft and poaching talent and instead was an attempt to malign its reputation and hurt its own recruiting efforts.

It should be noted that Kalayjian didn’t come directly from Tesla; he had a brief stint at San Francisco-based Plenty Inc., according to his Linkedin profile. Still, Kalayjian spent a decade at Tesla, and his move to Rivian likely got the attention of his former employer.


Convoy, the digital freight network that connects truckers with shippers, has hired former Expedia CEO Mark Okerstrom as the company’s president and Chief Operating Officer, effective August 31, 2020. Okerstrom will be responsible for Convoy’s finance, operations, sales, marketing, supply, and marketplace growth teams. Okerstrom wrote a blog about what prompted to leave Expedia after a decade.

Convoy is only five years old, but it’s become a giant in the nascent digital freight business. The company has managed to attract a slew of high-profile investors such as Jeff Bezos, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Greylock Partners, Y Combinator, Cascade Investment (the private investment vehicle of Bill Gates) and Code.org founders Hadi and Ali Partovi. Even U2’s Bono and the Edge have invested in Convoy.

Last November, Convoy announced it had raised $400 million in a Series D funding round, funding that would be used to scale its business amid an increasingly competitive market. Convoy said at the time that its post-money valuation to $2.75 billion.

AV Spotlight: Voyage

Voyage G3 robotaxi

Image Credits: Voyage

Autonomous vehicle startup Voyage is a smaller enterprise than its industry peers, in terms of capital raised and number of employees. But that doesn’t mean Voyage isn’t making moves — and progress.

The three-year-old startup tests and operates a self-driving vehicle service (with human safety operators) in retirement communities in California and Florida. They started by modifying Ford Fusion vehicles and later retrofitted FCA’s Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans with its autonomous vehicle technology. Last year, Voyage partnered with FCA to provide next-generation purpose-built Pacifica Hybrid vehicles that have been developed for integration of automated technology. These vehicles come with customizations such as redundant braking and steering that are necessary to safely deploy driverless vehicles. (The partnership wasn’t announced until this spring).

Now, Voyage is lifting the veil on its third-generation robotaxi, called G3. CEO Oliver Cameron tells me G3 is designed to drive without the need of a human safety operator, equipped with COVID killing U-VC hardware and half the cost of its previous second-generation (G2) vehicle.

It might seem odd for the CEO of an AV company to exclaim that its vehicle is designed to be driverless. What Cameron means is that the vehicle generation has progressed to a point where it has all of the necessary redundancies and automotive grade hardware to move beyond testing and into commercial driverless operations. Voyage points to three technologies that get it there.

First, there’s the brain of the G3 — internally called Commander — that is powered by its perception, prediction and behavioral modules. Commander runs atop a safety-certified middleware and monitored by self-diagnostic systems. Then there’s the collision mitigation system called Shield that acts as a backup system to bring the vehicle to a safe stop if necessary. And then finally, a remote operations feature called Telessist. When the brain, or Commander, faces a novel or chaotic traffic situation it has the capability to ask for assistance.

Voyage has talked about these elements before, but it has never really dug into the compute side of things. As Cameron noted to me, “it used to be you had to choose between automotive grade and performance. Now, we have both.”

Voyage worked with Nvidia on the compute. It also involved another company, which took the Nvidia boards and made them automotive grade. “So think ruggedized aluminum, think safety certified, think liquid cooling — all the things you need to do this safely and in a vehicle,” Cameron said.

Also of note, Voyage is using Blackberry’s QNX operating system in the G3. This generation also has a number of features aimed at its senior citizen customers, including two-way voice, extra steps to help mobility-challenged riders get in and out of the vehicle, extra lighting, and an in-cabin user interface that caters to vision-impaired riders.

Image Credits: Voyage

Inside the vehicle, Voyage has added U-VC hardware to kill COVID and other airborne diseases. Cameron said they knew it would be critical to find some cost-effective way of cleaning the vehicles. A friend suggested that he look into ambulances.

“Ambulances have really figured out how to prevent contamination from one person to another after each trip,” Cameron said. “It turns out they primarily use UV-C and it turns out in multiple studies and publications that UV-C at a certain intensity, kills COVID.”

The UV-C lights, provided by a company called GHSP, are placed in each row of the vehicle.

Despite the extra cost of the UV-C lighting and other features, Cameron said the G3 is still 50% cheaper than its previous generation.

“In the past 12 months, we’ve seen our sensor costs decrease by 65% and our compute costs decrease by 25%, resulting in a vehicle that is about 50% cheaper than the prior generation. And that’s puts us on a viable path to make money.”

The G3 isn’t quite ready for prime time. Beta versions of the G3 are being tested on the road in San Jose. Production vehicles and commercial driverless are expected to follow next year.

Notable reads and other tidbits

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Loads of other mobility news went down this week. Let’s check it out.

Bentley’s Bentayga packed in a series of surprises for TechCrunch’s Matt Burns. Here’s what he discovered over 24 hours with the $177,000 sport utility vehicle.

Blackberry is pushing into China. The company announced it will be powering the Level 3 driving domain controller of Xpeng, one of the most-funded electric vehicle startups in China, and Tesla’s local challenger.

Bollinger Motors, the Michigan-based startup known for its rugged electric SUV and pickup truck, unveiled a delivery van concept called the DELIVER-E that it plans to start producing in 2022. This shouldn’t be confused with the E-Chassis, now called Chass-E, that the company designed for Class 3 commercial vehicles.

Elon Musk called an attempted cyberattack against Tesla “serious,” a comment that confirmed the company was the target of a foiled ransomware attempt at its massive factory near Reno, Nevada. The Justice Department released a complaint that described a thwarted malware attack against an unnamed company in Sparks, Nevada. It wasn’t clear if the company was Tesla until Musk publicly commented on it. Russian national Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov, 27, allegedly attempted to recruit and bribe a Tesla employee to introduce malware in the company’s network, according to the complaint.

Ford, Bosch and Bedrock are demonstrating automated valet parking in downtown Detroit. This system is designed to allow drivers to exit a vehicle and the vehicle would park itself in the parking structure. You might recall that Bedrock also has a pilot with automated shuttle startup May Mobility.

Image Credits: Ford

GM is moving the engineering team responsible for the mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette to the company’s electric and autonomous vehicle programs to “push the boundaries” on what its future EV battery systems and components can deliver, according to an internal memo from Doug Parks.

Monet, a joint venture between SoftBank Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. unveiled two adapted vans. One of the vans pumps fresh air through the vehicle to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure, Reuters reported.

Pony.ai, the self-driving startup Pony.ai, and Bosch reached an agreement to explore the future of automotive maintenance and repair for autonomous fleets. The companies started in July a pilot of the robotaxi fleet maintenance at an undisclosed Bosch Car Service location in the San Francisco Bay area.

Scout Campers unveiled its new Kenai unit, a camper that packs a massive amount of equipment into its small footprint, including a 160-watt solar panel, CNET’s Roadshow reports.

Xwing, the autonomous aviation startup, revealed its go-to-market strategy, a plan that includes focusing on regional 500-mile distance cargo flights.

Ford, Bosch and Bedrock announce an automated valet parking garage in Detroit

Ford, Bosch and Bedrock Technologies today announced an automated valet parking demonstration in downtown Detroit. This system is designed to allow drivers to exit a vehicle and the vehicle would park itself in the parking structure.

Systems in a Ford Escape test vehicle communicate with Bosch sensors to locate an empty parking location and move the vehicle into the spot. This system includes safe gaurds that allows the vehicle to react and respond to objects and pedestrians in the drive path. The vehicle-to-infrastructure communication platform can be deployed via original construction or retrofitted solutions.

Bosch has been building similar systems for several years. The technology company partnered with Daimler in 2017 to build an automated valet system for the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. In 2019 the two companies received approval from German regulators to run the automated driverless parking function without a human safety driver behind the wheel. This made the system the world’s first fully automated driverless SAE Level 4 parking function to be officially approved for everyday use.

The demonstration announced today is located in Assembly Garage, a parking structure in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood near the Ford-owned Michigan Central Station. The highly controlled demonstration will be on display through the end of September and available for viewing through scheduled tours.

According to the partnership, an automated valet system can accommodate up to 20 percent more vehicles, along with eventually offering additional services such as charging, refueling, or through a car wash.

This partnership is located in a 40-mile corridor between downtown Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan that will is dedicated to developing systems for autonomous vehicles. To be built by Cavnue and a list of automotive partners, the company envisions numerous corridors designed for autonomous shuttles and buses, as well as trucks and personal vehicles.

Cavnue is joined by partners Ford, GM, Argo AI, Arrival, BMW, Honda, Toyota, TuSimple and Waymo on standards to develop the physical and digital infrastructure needed to move connected and autonomous cars out of pilot projects and onto America’s highways, freeways, interstates, and city streets.

Today’s automated valet announcement was praised by the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan with Detroit’s Mayor and the state’s Lt. Governor joining representatives from Ford, Bosch, and Bedrock in announcing the development.

After building a similar system with Daimler, Bosch’s partnership with Ford speaks to the lowering cost of entry to the technology. Ford’s demonstration today used a compact SUV with an average price of around $25,000. Daimler’s early systems relied on Mercedes-Benz vehicles costing over $100,000.

Ford CTO Ken Washington says the company is not ready to announce when the valet technology will hit production vehicles. He said today automated valet parking is on the company’s roadmap and the company has heard “loud and clear” that parking is a real pain point.

Lucid’s new all-electric sedan will let owners send energy to their homes by mid-2021

Lucid Motors said Wednesday that its upcoming all-electric Air sedan will have fast-charging capability that will let owners add 300 miles of range to the battery in 20 minutes and a home-charging unit that will allow owners to send energy from their car to their home.

Lucid said it is able to hit this benchmark because the vehicle has a 900-volt electrical architecture that when combined with its lithium-ion cells, battery and thermal management system and powertrain efficiency. Most electric vehicles — with the exception of the Porsche Taycan and future Kia EVs—  have a 400-volt architecture.

There are limitations to this speedy charging; a driver would need to access the correct DC fast charger, which are not exactly abundant at the moment. However, this capability does check an important box for EV owners. While the Lucid Air will have an eye-popping range of more than 500 miles — if its estimates are verified by EPA — the fast charging capability helps remove any lingering range anxiety and make long-distance travel more desirable.

The company revealed a number of other details surrounding charging, including that the Air will use the universal CCS (combined charging system) connector standard, which makes it compatible to public chargers. The vehicle will have a peak charging rate of over 300kW and a 19.2kW AC onboard charger that can support AC charging speeds up to 80 miles per hour.

Lucid also announced a partnership with Electrify America, VW Group’s U.S.-based charging network. Owners of the Air will be given three years of free charging at Electrify America chargers, which includes DC fast charging.

Lucid also has built out a number of home-based charging features, including a partnership with Qmerit on installation of its connected home charging station. But perhaps the most interesting feature is that Lucid has built in “vehicle-to-everything” charging capabilities into the Air and home charging unit. This means that the vehicle will be able to execute bi-directional charging between vehicles and even from the Air back to the owner’s home. Lucid specifically mentioned that it would allow owners to provide a temporary energy reserve for their homes, including “off grid vacation properties,” a weirdly specific detail that must be popular with the luxury EV owner demographic. Lucid told TechCrunch that this capability will become available in mid 2021.

Lucid said it also plans to repurpose older batteries for energy storage. The first prototype is already installed at Lucid’s Silicon Valley headquarters, where a team is working on producing a range of energy storage products.

Xos Trucks raises $20M to put more of its electric commercial trucks on the road

Commercial electric vehicle startup Xos Trucks has raised $20 million, funding it will use to ramp up production ahead of potential new demand fueled by a landmark emissions rule adopted by California that will require more than half of all trucks sold in the state to be zero-emissions by 2035.

The startup, which was formerly known as Thor Trucking, raised the funds from a group of investors including Proeza Ventures, a mobility-focused VC firm backed by Metalsa’s holding company, and BUILD Capital Group. Xos also gained a few new board members along with the capital. Rodolfo Elias Dieck of Proeza Ventures and Mark Lampert, a former Daimler executive who is now at Build Capital, have joined the board. Xos has beefed up its executive ranks as well, including hiring Kingsley Afemikhe as its CFO and Rob Ferber, employee number one and science director at Tesla, as its CTO.

“We’re excited to continue growing our operations to provide best-in-class last-mile electric vehicles for our customers,” said Dakota Semler, co-founder and CEO of Xos Trucks. “It’s our goal to provide reliable, affordable, and sustainable transportation as the volume of e-commerce demands are increasing, and have accelerated during the pandemic.”

Funding will be used to expand operations and scale up production of its electric skateboard chassis that is designed for Class 6 trucks, the medium-duty commercial vehicles that are often used in last-mile delivery in dense urban areas. This skateboard, known as the X-Platform, was designed to accommodate a variety of medium-duty bodies, wheelbases and range requirements up to 200 miles. Metalsa, the Mexico-based automotive supplier, helped Xos with the design and is providing components to the chassis.

Xos vehicles have been used by UPS on customer routes in the Los Angeles area for the past eight months, according to the company. Loomis, an existing customer of Xos, has order another 20 trucks following a pilot program in 2019.

Tesla sues Alameda County to force California factory reopening

Tesla filed a lawsuit Saturday against Alameda County in an effort to invalidate orders that have prevented the automaker from reopening its factory in Fremont, California.

The lawsuit, which seeks injunctive and declaratory relief against Alameda County, was first reported by CNBC. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for California’s Northern District.

Earlier Saturday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that he was filing a lawsuit against Alameda County and threatened to move its headquarters and future programs to Texas or Nevada immediately.

Tesla had planned to bring back about 30% of its factory workers Friday as part of its reopening plan, defying Alameda County’s stay-at-home order. Musk was basing the reopening on new guidance issued Thursday by California Gov. Gavin Newsom that allows manufacturers to resume operations. The guidance won praise from Musk, who later sent an internal email to employees about plans to reopen based on the governor’s revised order. However, the governor’s guidance included a warning that local governments could keep more restrictive rules in place. Alameda County, along with several other Bay Area counties and cities, last week extended the stay-at-home orders through the end of May. The orders were revised and did ease some of the restrictions. However, it did not lift the order for manufacturing.

The lawsuit argues that by preventing Tesla from opening, the Alameda County is going against its own guidance.

“Alameda County has expressly recognized and publicized that “businesses may . . . operate to manufacture” batteries and electric vehicles,” the complaint reads. “Inexplicably, however, the Third Order as well as County officials have simultaneously insisted that Tesla must remain shuttered, thereby further compounding the ambiguity, confusion and irrationality surrounding Alameda County’s position as to whether Tesla may resume manufacturing activities at its Fremont Factory and elsewhere in the County.”

The term “third order” is a reference to a revised stay-in-place order issued by Alameda County.

On Friday, the Alameda County Health Department said Tesla had not been given “the green light” to reopen and said if the company did, it would be out of compliance with the order.

Read the full complaint here.

Tesla v Alameda County Comp… by TechCrunch on Scribd

How Lyft intends to navigate and survive COVID-19

A glimpse at Lyft’s stock price Wednesday, which soared as much as 16.77% after first-quarter earnings were reported, suggested all was well in the ride-hailing company’s world.

In this COVID 19-era, “well” is a relative term. Lyft’s net losses did dramatically improve from the year-ago quarter (a loss of $398 million versus $1.1 billion in Q1 2019). However, Lyft was clear in its earnings call: COVID-19 had a profound impact on its customers and its business and the future was uncertain.

“It is impossible to accurately predict the duration and depth of the economic downturn we face,” Lyft CFO Brian Roberts said during an earnings call Wednesday afternoon. “Our business may be impacted for an extended period of time. So we must be prepared to adapt accordingly.”

The difficulty of predicting what will happen has hamstrung thousands of companies trying to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, Lyft withdrew its previously provided revenue and adjusted EBITDA guidance for full year 2020 because of the vast unknowns.

“Given this fluidity, it is impossible for us to predict with any certainty our results,” Roberts said. After the requisite warnings, Roberts did eventually provide an outlook for the second quarter — and it isn’t pretty. The outlook focused on adjusted EBITDA, which doesn’t give the most complete financial picture. It provides enough to understand that even with considerable cost-cutting measures, Lyft will suffer losses nearly four times wider than the first quarter.

Roberts said Lyft can manage to keep its second quarter adjusted EBITDA loss under $360 million if rides on its rideshare platform remain at April levels — which were down 75% year-over-year — for the remainder of the quarter. Lyft reported Wednesday an adjusted EBITDA loss of $85.2 million in the first quarter.

There are some early signs of a recovery. Ridership in the week ended May 3 was up 21% from the lows experienced in mid-April, according to Lyft. However, Lyft can’t afford to simply hope rideshare will return. It has to — and already has — enact a plan that will allow it to navigate the pandemic and come out as a survivor. In other words, Lyft will be judged at how well can stem the losses and find new revenue streams.

Work to cut costs has already started.

The company put together an aggressive plan to strengthen its financial position, Lyft co-founder and CEO Logan Green said during the earnings call. Lyft reduced its more than 5,000-person workforce by 17% and furloughed nearly another 300. Lyft also initiated a three-month pay reduction for all salaried employees, ranging from 10% for its most non-hourly team members, up to 30% for its senior leadership team and board members.

“Every other expense line is being scrutinized and no stone will be left unturned,” Green said.

The company expects to be able to cut its annualized fixed costs by $300 million by the end of the year. The reductions are based on its original expectations for 2020. Lyft has also ended rider coupons once ridership began to decline in mid-March and paused adding new drivers in nearly all markets.

“This reduces costs we incur associated with onboarding new drivers and helps protect utilization and earnings opportunities for existing drivers during this time of lower ride demand,” Green said.

Lyft reduced its 2020 capital expenditure plan by $250 million. And its sought out cost savings on the insurance front. (The company’s primary auto insurance policies expire at the end of September; Roberts said they’re considering the best options to reduce future volatility, as well as lower overall costs.)

The company is also shifting attention and resources to projects that executives believe will improve its unit economics. Finding those revenue streams will be tricky. Lyft has already provided a few clues of where it’s headed.

The company will continue with its Essential Deliveries pilot that launched April 15. The initiative lets government agencies, local non-profits, businesses and healthcare organizations request on-demand delivery of meals, groceries, life-sustaining medical supplies, hygiene products and home necessities.

Green said the company will evaluate any future opportunities based on how it performs. But he quickly added “that we have no interest in launching a consumer food delivery service. And so, we will not be doing that.”

Green also seemed cautiously optimistic about a new lost cost product called “Wait and Save,” that allows Lyft optimize the marketplace and be more efficient with matching drivers and riders.

Volkswagen to start sales of first-edition all-electric ID.3 hatchback in June

Volkswagen plans to start selling the launch edition of its ID.3 vehicle next month to customers who placed pre-orders of the all-electric hatchback.

Customers who made reservations for the launch edition, known as ID.3 1st, will be able to order their vehicle starting June 17, according to a tweet posted by Volkswagen board member Jürgen Stackmann. Volkswagen has registered more than 37,000 reservations for the first edition, which will be limited to 30,000 units. Orders for right-hand drive markets will open in July, Stackmann said.

The announcement follows the automaker’s decision last month to restart production of the ID.3 at its Zwickau, Germany factory, which had been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Production of the ID.3 1st resumed April 23, initially with reduced capacity and slower cycle times.

The ID.3 is the first model in the company’s new all-electric ID brand and the beginning of its ambitious plan to sell 1 million electric vehicles annually by 2025. The ID.3 will only be sold in Europe. Other models under the ID brand will be sold in North America.

The four-door, five-seater hatchback is as long as the VW Golf. However, thanks to the ID.3’s shorter overhangs, its wheelbase is larger, giving the vehicle a roomier interior. The special-edition version will start less than €40,000 in Germany, the company has previously said.

Volkswagen will fulfill its orders for the special launch edition of the ID.3 first. VW customers paid a deposit of €1,000 ($1,122 based on conversion last year) to pre-order the special-edition vehicle. Volkswagen said that the ID.3 1st will include free electric charging for the first year, up to a maximum of 2,000 kWh, at all public charging points connected to the Volkswagen charging app WeCharge and using the pan-European rapid charging network IONITY.

Volkswagen plans to produce the ID.3 in three configurations — the Pure, Pro and Pro S.

The ID.3 Pure is the entry-level model that will be equipped with a 45 kWh battery pack that can travel up to an estimated 260 miles under the WLTP standard. The entry-level version will be priced less than €30,000 on the German market and come standard with 18-inch steel wheels, LED headlights with automatic lighting control and LED tail-light clusters.

The ID.3 Pro has a larger battery than the Pure, increased range, more power and shorter charging times, and will start at less than €35,000 in Germany. The Pro S sits at the top of the model range and includes sportier equipment, including 19-inch Andoya wheels and “Play & Pause” design pedals.

Tesla to reduce price of standard range Model 3 in China

Tesla said it will reduce the price of its standard range Model 3 vehicle in China to meet the government’s new eligibility requirements for subsidies.

This marks the second time this year that the automaker has reduced the price. Several months ago, the base version of China-made Model 3 was lowered by 9%.

Tesla has to cut the price of the vehicle to continue to qualify for government rebates on electric vehicles. The Chinese government instituted new regulations that require prices below 300,000 yuan for electric vehicles to qualify for subsidies.

The base price of the standard range Model 3 made in China is 323,800 yuan, or $45,754 before subsidies.

The price reduction will go into effect tomorrow in China, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a earnings call Wednesday. Musk, who didn’t provide a specific figure, said he is confident the vehicle will deliver a gross margin despite the reduction in price.

Tesla chief financial officer Zachary Kirkhorn added that the cost of vehicles produced at its Shanghai factory in the first quarter is already lower than the cost to produce the Model 3 in the United States. That margin should improve as the company improves its local supply chain in China. Tesla still ships some parts from the U.S. to build cars at its Shanghai factory.

Voyage gets the green light to bring robotaxi service to California’s public roads

Voyage has cleared a regulatory hurdle that will allow the company to expand its self-driving service from the private roads of a retirement community in San Jose, Calif. to public roads throughout the rest of the state.

The California Public Utilities Commission issued a permit Monday that gives Voyage permission to transport passengers in its self-driving vehicles on the state’s public roads. The permit, which is part of the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot, puts Voyage in a new and growing group of companies seeking to expand beyond traditional AV testing. Aurora, AutoX, Cruise, Pony.ai, Zoox and Waymo have all received permits to participate in the CPUC’s Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program.

The permit also puts Voyage on a path toward broader commercialization.

The company was operating six autonomous vehicles — always with a human safety driver behind the wheel — in The Villages, a community of more than 4,000 residents in San Jose, Calif. (Those activities have been suspended temporarily under a statewide stay-at-home order prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.) Voyage also operates in a 40-square-mile, 125,000-resident retirement city in central Florida.

Voyage didn’t need a CPUC permit because the community is made up of private roads, although CEO Oliver Cameron said the company wanted to adhere to state rules regardless of any technicalities. Voyage was also motivated by a grander ambition to transport residents of The Villages to destinations outside of the community.

“We want to bring people to all the things that live outside The Villages, facilities like hospitals and grocery stores,” Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron told TechCrunch in an interview Monday.

Voyage’s strategy was to start with retirement communities — places with specific customer demand and a simpler surrounding environment. The demographic that Voyage serves has an average age of 70. The aim isn’t to change its customer base. Instead, Cameron wants to expand the company’s current operational design domain to give Voyage a bigger reach.

The end goal is for Voyage’s core customers — people Cameron dubs power users — to be able to use the service for everything from heading to a neighbor’s house for dinner to shopping, doctor’s visits and even the airport.

The CPUC authorized in May 2018 two pilot programs for transporting passengers in autonomous vehicles. The first one, called the Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program, allows companies to operate a ride-hailing service using autonomous vehicles as long as they follow specific rules. Companies are not allowed to charge for rides, a human safety driver must be behind the wheel and certain data must be reported quarterly.

The second CPUC pilot would allow driverless passenger service — although no company has yet to obtain that permit.

Under the permit, Voyage can’t charge for rides. However, there might be some legal wiggle room. Voyage can technically charge for rides within The Villages; in fact, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdown, the company had started charging for a ride-hailing service.

Rides outside of The Villages would have to be free, although it’s unclear if the company could charge for mileage or time until the vehicle left the community.

Voyage has aspirations to take this further. The company is also applying for a traditional Transportation Charter Permit, which is required for limousine, bus and other third-party charter services. Cameron said the company had to go through the stringent application process for the CPUC’s Drivered AV permit first.

The CPUC programs shouldn’t be confused with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which regulates and issues permits for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads — always with a safety driver. There are 65 companies that hold autonomous vehicle testing permits issued by the DMV. Companies that want to participate in the CPUC program must have a testing permit with the DMV.