Latest Tech News | The Station: Lucid Motors, Joby Aviation take the SPAC path and Sergey Brin’s airship ambitions


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Hi friends and new readers, 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.

In last week’s newsletter, I described some of the changes coming to TechCrunch’s transportation coverage, including “market maps.” These articles, which run will always run in Extra Crunch, focus on a particular slice of the transportation industry, along with other mobility-related analysis.

The first of these took a deep dive into the solid state battery industry. As Mark Harris reported: For the last decade, developers of solid state battery systems have promised products that are vastly safer, lighter and more powerful. Those promises largely evaporated into the ether — leaving behind a vapor stream of disappointing products, failed startups and retreating release dates.

A new wave of companies and technologies are finally maturing and attracting the funding necessary to feed batteries’ biggest market: transportation. Keep reading here: Can solid state batteries power up the next generation of EVs?

This week look out for our revamped automotive reviews, an interview with Joby Aviation founder JoeBen Birt, Paul Sciarra, the company’s executive chair and co-founder of Pinterest and Reid Hofffman, whose SPAC merged with Joby as well as a chat with Lucid CEO and CTO Peter Rawlinson. Two new reporters, who will be helping to expand and deepen our transportation coverage, are also starting this coming week.

Micromobbin’

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Micromobbin’ is short and sweet this week. I wanted to flag this upcoming panel.

A free panel called Women on Wheels: Making Micromobility Safer for Female Riders will be held 12 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. ET on March 8. The panel will focus on women and safety. Reservations are required to join. Visit the Eventbrite link here to register.

Speakers include ScootRoute Founder and CEO Meghan Braley, who is hosting the event, SomEV co-founder and battery engineer Natasha George and Saturday Night Bike Club’s director of cyclist engagement, Ashley Ndiaye.

Deal of the week

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After weeks of speculation, Lucid Motors finally announced it would become a publicly traded company through a merger with special-purpose acquisition company Churchill Capital IV Corp.

A string of EV automakers and charging infrastructure companies have taken the SPAC merger path to public markets over the past 10 months, including ArrivalCanoo, ChargePoint, EVgo, Fisker and Lordstown Motors. But this one is by far the largest.

The combined company, in which Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund will continue to be the largest shareholder, will have a transaction equity value of $11.75 billion. Private investment in the public equity deal is priced at $15 a share, putting the implied pro-forma equity value at $24 billion.

I interviewed CEO and CTO Peter Rawlinson after the deal was announced. Watch out for an article based on what he said this coming week.

Meanwhile, another deal worth noting was Joby Aviation’s announcement that it would become a public company through a merger with Reinvent Technology Partners, a special purpose acquisition company from well-known investor and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Zynga founder Mark Pincus. The combined company, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, will have a pro forma implied valuation of $6.6 billion.

Joby Aviation has spent a more than a decade developing an all-electric, vertical take-off and landing passenger aircraft. Joby plans to use the capital to fund the launch of passenger service, which is expected to begin in 2024. The company still must complete certification of its aircraft and develop manufacturing facilities, but it is already on its way to achieving both.

Other deals that got my attention …

Aurora, which recently closed its acquisition of Uber’s self-driving subsidiary, bought its second lidar startup in less than two years. Aurora acquired OURS Technology, a 12-person startup the founded in 2017 by a team of University of California-Berkeley researchers and PhDs. Two years ago, Aurora acquired Blackmore, a Montana-based lidar startup. 

Gettacar, an online used-vehicle startup, raised $25 million in new funding. The company has raised  $48 million over three funding rounds in more than two years.

Gophr, a U.K.-based last-mile delivery startup, raised £4 million ($5.5 million) in a funding round led by pan-European B2B investor Nauta Capital.

Manbang, the Chinese truck-hailing company backed by Tencent Holdings Ltd., confidentially filed for an initial public offering that could raise at least $1 billion, Bloomberg reported.

Nyobolt, the Cambridge, UK-based battery company previously known as CB2Tech, raised $10 million in Series A funding round led IQ Capital.

WiTricity, the EV wireless charging company, announced an additional $18 million to its previously announced fund raise of $34 million. The extension included investments from Tony Fadell’s Future Shape and other private investors. Fadell is also joining the board.

Xos, the commercial electric vehicle manufacturer, plans to go public through a merger with a blank-check company, NextGen Acquisition Corp., in a deal valued at $2 billion.

Zomato, the Indian food delivery startup, has raised $250 million, just two months after closing a $660 million Series J financing round.

A little bird

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Back in October, the city of New York released its request for interest in its electric scooter pilot, officially kicking off what promised to be a competitive battle among companies vying for a chance to operate their businesses in there.

The city also released a request for expressions of interest, or “RFEI,” for companies that provide ancillary services to the electric scooter industry, such as data aggregation and analysis, on-street charging and parking vendors, safe-riding training courses as well as scooter collection and impound services.

New York is one of two large markets — London being the other — that has yet name the companies that will receive these highly coveted permits. My sources are telling me that New York will announce this week which companies landed permits for the pilot. It’s possible London will make a similar announcement.

Last week, the New York City Department of Transportation announced the geographic boundaries for the e-scooter pilot will be in eastern Bronx neighborhoods from Eastchester and Co-op City to Throggs Neck and Soundview, an 18-square-mile area home to 570,000 residents. The pilot is expected to launch in the late spring, will run for a minimum of one year. The pilot is estimated to bring as many as 2,000 to 3,000 scooters to the East Bronx during Phase 1 with an increase to as many as 4,000 to 6,000 in a potential second phase in 2022.

A quick history lesson

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Remember the ID Buzz, the reimagined microbus that Volkswagen first showed off as a prototype at the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit? The vehicle has been in development since then and on Friday, we received another update on its future.

Volkswagen said it is aiming to have a Level 4 autonomous ID.Buzz in service for commercial use by 2025. Argo AI, the self-driving startup backed by Ford and Volkswagen, is providing the autonomous driving technology that will allow these microbuses to navigate urban environments without a human behind the wheel.

The company is conducting field trials in Germany this year.

The idea is to use these microbuses for a ride-hailing and sharing service similar to what Moia offers today in Germany. VW noted that its commercial vehicle division will develop and build Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV), such as robotaxis and vans.

The announcement suggests that progress is being made. However, it’s important to note VW’s previous timelines and intentions.

In 2016, VW Group launched Moia as a separate company focused on providing mobility solutions, including fleet-based commuter shuttles and, eventually, autonomous on-demand transportation.

Ole Harms, who was Moia’s CEO when it launched, was on the TechCrunch stage in London back in 2016. At the time, he said the first pilots of autonomous driving deployments would come earlier than the 2021 date cited by many competitors for the arrival of self-driving tech.

VW Group tapped self-driving startup Aurora and in January 2018 announced plans to launch commercial fleets of self-driving electric vehicles in two to five cities beginning in 2021. Volks­wagen said at the time that it planned to launch two types of test fleets using Aurora tech, including one for ride-pooling that would use Moia shuttles and another for door-to-door ride-hailing service in the U.S. and Germany.

Aurora and VW’s partnership ended 18 months later.

VW’s launch date — along with the timelines from virtually every other AV developer — was pushed back. This time around, will VW aided by Argo, meet its deadline?

Notable reads and other tidbits

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A few more items to note this week.

Foxconn Technology Group reached a tentative agreement with electric vehicle startup-turned-SPAC Fisker to develop and eventually manufacture an EV that will be sold in North America, Europe, China and India. The deal isn’t done yet though.

This is just a memorandum of understanding agreement. Discussions between the two companies will continue with the expectation that a formal partnership agreement will be reached during the second quarter of this year.

Speaking of Fisker, The Verge reported that the electric vehicle startup has dropped plans to create a solid-state battery and that last July it quietly settled a previously unreported trade secret lawsuit with Volkswagen-backed solid-state battery company QuantumScape.

Flipkart said it will deploy more than 25,000 electric vehicles in its supply chain by 2030 as the Walmart-owned e-commerce giant looks to achieve a 100% transition to electric mobility in the next 10 years. The Bangalore-headquartered firm said it partnered with leading EV makers including Hero Electric, Mahindra Electric and Piaggio to build vehicles for its first and last-mile delivery fleets across the country.

Amazon said just a day before the Flipkart announcement that it partnered with Mahindra Electric to develop “close to hundred” electric three-wheelers in India. The American e-commerce giant last year pledged to deploy 10,000 electric vehicles in the country by 2025.

Nikola, the controversial electric truck maker, is trying to make fresh start, admitting in a recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing that nine statements made by founder Trevor Milton were “inaccurate.” Milton, you might remember, resigned from Nikola in September, after a report from noted short-seller Hindenburg Research accused the company of fraud.

The company is also narrowing its focus, getting rid of the various side projects that Milton started. The SEC filing showed the company took a $14.4 million impairment expense after discontinuing the Powersports business unit.

Sergey Brin’s secretive airship company LTA Research and Exploration is planning to power a huge disaster relief airship with an equally record-breaking hydrogen fuel cell, according to a job listing spotted by TechCrunch’s Mark Harris.

United States Postal Service awarded a 10-year, $485-million contract to Oshkosh Defense to deliver between 50,000 and 165,000 Next Generation Delivery Vehicles, Ars Technica reported. The first trucks are due on the road in 2023. Only 10% of the new delivery trucks will be battery electric, which seems to conflict with the new Biden Administration’s plans to replace the entire federal fleet with EVs. The news sent shares of Workhorse Group Inc. into a free fall.





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