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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.
Hello! And goodbye! Well, at least until 2024. The Station is going to take a little break through the end of this year. I want to thank you all for reading our weekly newsletter and reaching out to me with suggestions, tips and criticism. Yes, I even appreciate the thoughtful pushback.
It’s been an action-packed year with new startups emerging (so many electric boat and RV companies, am I right?), a bevy of EVs hitting the road and a number of commercial milestones achieved in the autonomous vehicle industry. There were, of course, gloomy and even shocking moments too. A number of startups failed, including a bunch of mobility SPACs, and layoffs were pervasive even into this last month of the year. Two of the more stunning stories were within the autonomous vehicle industry: the founders of the defunct Argo AI coming back with a new Softbank-funded AV startup and the downfall of Cruise.
The Cruise story continues to unfold and will likely play out well into 2024. This past week was a doozy for Cruise, albeit an expected one. The upshot: the Cruise board, and by extension the GM board, are cleaning house in an effort to salvage years of technological progress. As part of that mission, nine top leaders were dismissed and 900 workers were laid off.
We’ll be following the Cruise story into next year. But that isn’t our only focus.
Here at TechCrunch, our team cares about the future of transportation from new EVs and battery tech to electric and hydrogen aviation, autonomous vehicles, micromobility and in-car tech. That means more than just highlighting the next new new thing. Instead, we strive to explain why it matters and who it might affect. In other words, we’re the kind of folks who take that unlikely exit or side road to explore what others may avoid. We hope you’ll join us on the ride.
See you in the New Year!
Want to reach out with a tip, comment or complaint? Email Kirsten at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reminder that you can drop us a note at email@example.com. If you prefer to remain anonymous, click here to contact us, which includes SecureDrop (instructions here) and various encrypted messaging apps.
The big story in scooterville was the “seemingly” abrupt decision by Superpedestrian to shut down its U.S. operations and begin to explore the sale of its European business just 18 months after raising $125 million. I hate to say I saw this coming, but well let’s just say I wasn’t shocked by the news considering that in late November, Superpedestrian started letting go of some European executives who were in charge of global development and operations.
Superpedestrian’s Link scooters are in about 60 cities across 11 countries, but they’ll be pulled from most markets by the end of 2023. The startup positioned itself as a safe city partner, investing in its advanced rider assistance technology by acquiring Navmatic in July 2021. What came out of that was Pedestrian Defense, Superpedestrian’s GPS-based safety system that allowed it to detect and correct unsafe rider behavior in real time. But that system competed with other camera-based computer vision systems, like those popularized by Drover AI and Luna. Lime, the only big scooter company that looks like it might survive, implemented its own version of the rider assistance tech to its scooters in July 2022, around the same time that Superpedestrian started issuing layoffs.
Shared micromobility is a hard business to get right, as we’ve seen from the balance sheets of public companies Bird and Micromobility.com (formerly Helbiz). Bird recently got kicked off the stock market, issued a couple rounds of layoffs and is probably close to filing for bankruptcy. Micromobility.com issued not one, but two reverse stock splits this year, and its stock price is still circling the drain. And after some failed talks to get acquired, Tier Mobility also issued layoffs in November. Oh, and let’s not forget the mysterious disappearance of Bolt.
My question now is, which one will be next to say scoot off into the great beyond?
— Rebecca Bellan
Deal of the week
Just a bunch of deals this week!
Dimensional Energy, New York-based startup developing sustainable aviation fuel from carbon dioxide emissions and water, raised $20 million in a Series A round led by Envisioning Partners. Strategic investors such as United Airlines’ sustainable flight fund, Microsoft’s climate innovation fund, RockCreek’s smart aviation futures fund, DSC Investment, Delek US and New York Ventures as well as existing investors like Elemental Excelerator and Chloe Capital also participated.
DST, a Chinese new energy vehicle fleet management company, completed a $80 million financing round to fuel R&D investments and real-time computational analytics.
Exponent Energy, the Indian EV charging startup, raised a $26.4 million Series B, led by Eight Road Ventures and TDK Ventures. The funds will help Exponent expand its 15-minute charging solution to five major Indian cities in FY 2024 and enter the intercity e-bus segment. The company plans to deploy 1,000 of its charging stations and have 25,000 EVs powered by Exponent by 2025.
Lyko, a Mobility as a Service startup, raised 1.4 million euros ($1.53 million) from Habert Dassault Finance, Afrimobility (Akwa Group), angel investors and banks including Bpifrance, Crédit Mutuel, and Caisse d’Épargne.
Metafuels, a sustainable jet fuel startup, raised $8 million in a round led by Energy Impact Partners and Contrarian Ventures.
Vammo, the São Paulo-based startup that wants to scale electric motorcycle battery swapping in Latin America, raised $30 million in Series A round to capture the growth in popularity of motorcycles across the region. The equity and debt round was led by Monashees with participation from climate tech fund 2150 and Maniv Mobility.
Notable reads and other tidbits
Tesla is limiting the use of its Autopilot driver-assistance software as part of a two-million-vehicle recall. Reporter Sean O’Kane explains what and why this matters.
TechCrunch reporter Rita Liao digs into the nuanced new AV regulations in China. “A close read reveals some interesting contrasts between the perspectives of Chinese and U.S. regulators regarding the nascent technology,” Liao writes.
Waymo keeps chugging along, this week with an important expansion. Select riders can now be picked up or dropped off by the company’s robotaxis curbside at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. It’s limited to be sure, but still a milestone.
WeRide starts testing autonomous buses in Singapore, signaling its global ambitions.
Car sharing and other gig economy bits
European Union lawmakers have finally reached a deal on the final shape of the Platform Worker Directive, which is designed bolster gig worker rights.
Getaround, the startup-turned SPAC that enables car owners rent their vehicles out to their peers, filed its first earnings report. Tl;dr: a pop in revenue that suggests the company is growing, but still not enough to be profitable.
Electric vehicles, batteries & charging
Chevrolet invited reporters, including yours truly, to drive the 2024 Chevy Blazer EV. My thoughts? There is a lot to like about this vehicle. In spite of all of its wins, the Blazer EV, which is intended to be a volume seller, is simply too expensive for what it offers.
Ford is slashing its production target for the all-electric F-150 Lightning to match weak demand.
Jon McNeill, the former president of Tesla, founder of venture DVx and vice chair of the Cruise board, wrote an interesting op-ed in TechCrunch debunking the recent storyline that EV demand is weakening. He argues that data shows EV sales are thriving, but warns that the U.S. must take action if it wants to stay in the global race.
Sila, a 13-year-old company that has raised more than $900 million to date, signed a milestone deal to supply Panasonic with its Titan Silicon anode material. Production will happen at Sila’s future Moses Lake facility, where the startup recently broke ground.
Taiwanese electric scooter maker Gogoro introduced a battery-swapping network and three smartscooters to India, marking the company’s official entry into the world’s most populous country and biggest two-wheeler market.
Tesla’s $50,000 threat to Cybertruck resellers may be back after all.
Uber Freight and Greenlane, a $650 million JV between Daimler Truck NA, NextEra Energy and BlackRock, are working together to accelerate the deployment and installation of public charging infrastructure for heavy duty EVs.
The US-China tech war is escalating over EV battery dominance.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration want anti-drunk-driving tech in cars. Here’s what stands in the way.