The Station: Rounding up the Tesla Cyber Roundup, a Waymo change up and the mysterious disappearance of Bolt Mobility
Aug 8, 2022
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 it’s a dual-hosted event with transportation editor Kirsten Korosec and transportation reporter Rebecca Bellan steering the ship, er, car. One story that deserves your attention is the mystery around Bolt Mobility. Bolt Mobility appears to have ceased operations and vanished into the ether, leaving behind dead vehicles and unanswered calls in at least eight U.S. markets. Representatives from affected cities told TechCrunch they haven’t been able to get ahold of anyone from Bolt, including the company’s CEO Ignacio Tzoumas. In addition to reaching out to as many cities where Bolt had, until recently, been running a service, Rebecca also made multiple attempts to reach Bolt staff members and its investors — to no avail. Even Bolt’s customer service line doesn’t appear to be staffed. It’s all very mysterious. Bolt had appeared to be on an upward trajectory last year after acquiring the assets of Last Mile Holdings, which opened up 48 new markets to the micromobility operator. The company also had some recent undisclosed investment, which ostensibly could have tided Bolt over long enough to, at the very least, remove its vehicles from the streets and properly dispose of or recycle them. So what gives? We’re still working that one out, but Alex Wilhelm and Annie Saunders have been pondering the effect that asset depreciation can have on startups like Bolt. For example, we’ve seen with Bird just how lackluster the economics of running shared scooter companies are just from an operations perspective. Wilhelm and Saunders write:
When the cost of vehicle depreciation was factored into its business…it was hugely gross-margin-negative. So, its cash was going into not only operations but funding a huge fleet of gear. Gear that it had to design, manufacture, ship and market in an effort to make its money back. It never quite worked. Alrighty then, onward! You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions, or tips. You also can send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec
A word on safety. I keep seeing reports of emergency room visits for e-scooter riders. My initial reaction to news of e-scooter accidents was to blame cars for ruling the roads and cities for not providing enough safe bike lanes. However, there’s also space to push micromobility companies to provide more protections. In Denver , a rider simply reached up to adjust her glasses and before she knew it was flatlined with a head injury. An easy mistake to make, and one I can see myself making. Sturdier scooters and helmets offered with all shared micromobility vehicles could make an appreciable difference. I live in Auckland, where Neuron, Beam and Lime run a service. Neuron and Beam both have helmets attached to their scooters, so it can be done, whereas Lime, for whatever reason, does not. In fact, most scooter companies don’t offer helmets. Instead, they promise to improve safety by spending lord-knows-how-much on computer vision technology to keep riders off sidewalks. In other news…
There is some executive movement over in Waymo land. Dan Chu, Waymo’s chief product officer, has left the Alphabet subsidiary, according to a few folks in the know (and later confirmed by Waymo). Chu has been at Waymo for eight years and 14 years at Alphabet. Waymo confirmed Chu’s departure and said he was moving onto a new “professional opportunity in the health tech industry.” The company said Chu was staying on through mid-September “to ensure a smooth transition.”
“We’re grateful to Dan for his product leadership and vision, having helped us launch Waymo One, Waymo Via, and build a world-class Product team,” the company said in a statement. It appears that Waymo already has a replacement in mind. Saswat Panigrahi, who joined Waymo in 2016 and was most recently vice president of strategy, product management and data science, is taking the CPO spot. “Panigrahi has been with Waymo for almost six years in a variety of product leadership roles, managing our engineering and commercial roadmaps across ride hailing, long haul trucking and local delivery,” the statement continued. During his time at Waymo, Panigrahi has been a part of launching the first fully autonomous public commercial service in Phoenix and the start of fully autonomous operations in San Francisco, the company said, adding that prior to joining Waymo he was with Google for four years as senior product manager working on Chrome Browser, Chromebooks and Android. Deal of the week
Looks like there’s a new micromobility SPAC on the market, and we’re trying not to cringe. Galata Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company led by Callaway Capital with $146.6 million in trust, has announced plans to merge with Marti Technologies, a micromobility app in Turkey that operates a fleet of over 46,000 e-mopeds, e-bikes and e-scooters. Marti will use the funds from the IPO to strengthen its position in Turkey by deploying additional vehicles across existing and new modalities. Given the performance of other micromobility companies that have gone public via SPAC – AKA Bird and Helbiz – it’s actually surprising to see Marti decide to go public on the same route, particularly so when many other startups are shunning the public markets until things heat up again. Other deals that got my attention …
Hyundai is considering acquiring the remaining stake in 42dot, a South Korea-based lidar-free autonomous mobility platform. Mobiv Acquisition, a blank-check company led by Peter Bilitsch targeting the electric vehicle industry in Asia and Europe raised $87 million in an IPO . Nexar, the Israeli dash cam data company, is acquiring Veniam, an IoT company that transfers data from cars to the cloud with its connected vehicle mesh network. Nikola agreed to acquire Romeo Power in an all-stock $144 million deal, giving the company control over a key part of its supply chain. Orange EV raised $35 million in a round led by S2G Ventures and CCI to accelerate the adoption of electric yard trucks. Ottonomy.IO, the autonomous robotics delivery startup, raised $3.3 million in a seed round led by Pi Ventures. The company has raised $4.9 million to date. Connetic Ventures and Branded Hospitality Ventures and Sangeet Kumar, founder and CEO of Addverb Technologies also joined this round. River, a Bangalore-based startup that makes electric two-wheelers , has closed an $11 million Series A . The round, which was led by Chris Sacca’s Lowercarbon Capital in participation with Toyota Ventures and existing investors Maniv Mobility and Trucks VC, will help the young company set up a manufacturing facility and get its first product ready for sale by early 2023. River has the potential to be a leader in the Indian market, given the government’s plans to push EV sales penetration of two-wheelers up to 80% by 2030.
Notable reads and other tidbits
Argo AI launched a safety advisory council , an external group of safety experts to help the company advance its autonomous mission and build trust with the public. The council is stacked with some of the best in safety, including former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt, TransSafe Consulting CEO Annette Sandberg, who once led the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and Christopher Doss, the senior managing director of cybersecurity at Ankura and former Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Embark conducted a public demo to show how its autonomous trucks would interact with emergency vehicles and law enforcement in Texas. Pony.ai is suing two former employees who left to start their own autonomous trucking companies over alleged trade secret infringement. Electric vehicles
GreenPower Motor Company announced the first delivery of its EV Star Cab and Chassis to Workhorse for the production of the latter’s van line which is expected to enter production later this year. Lamborghini wants to wait and see what kinds of policies the European Union will enforce on ICE vehicles before deciding to go all in on EVs. Tesla shareholders approved a three-to-one stock split, but they rejected proposals to improve annual reporting on things like racial, sexual and gender harassment and discrimination, lobbying, water risk and use of child labor in the supply chain. Check out other key takeaways from Tesla’s Cyber Roundup . Speaking of Tesla, Mark Harris, who also writes for TechCrunch, just wrapped up a series on Tesla data for IEEE Spectrum. The Radical Scope of Tesla’s Data Hoard, Tesla’s Autopilot Depends on a Deluge of Data and Who Actually Owns Tesla’s Data ? Check it out. And the final item on the Tesla front, the California DMV has accused Tesla of falsely advertising its FSD beta software, reported the LA Times . Volkswagen said it would offer a cheaper version of its ID.4 electric compact SUV , with a smaller battery pack, that starts at $37,495 before federal tax credits (and not including the $1,295 destination fee). Xpeng’s July sales results are in . The Chinese EV company sold 11,524 Smart EVs. While that’s up 43% YoY, it’s down from 15,295 vehicles delivered in June. The breakdown looks like: 6,397 P7 sports sedans, 3,608 P5 smart family sedans and 1,519 G3i smart compact SUVs. In August, Xpeng will accept reservations for its new G9 SUV followed by an official launch in September. Earnings
Aurora Innovation pushed back the deployment timeline of its commercial autonomous trucking platform. The company closed out Q2 with “collaboration revenue,” which isn’t actually revenue, of $20.7 million and a massive net loss of $1.2 billion. Fisker said it now has more than 56,000 reservations for the Ocean electric SUV , of which it has 55 prototypes built, and is on track to start production November 17. Despite the promise of revenue in the future, the luxury EV startup closed the second quarter with pretty much no revenue to speak of, a loss per share of $0.36 and a net loss of $106 million, which is down from the $122.1 million loss reported in Q1. Lordstown Motors reported its first quarterly operating profit of $61.3 million . The embattled EV company still hasn’t delivered any vehicles, so these gains are largely related to the sale of its Ohio factory to Foxconn. The company reaffirmed plans to begin commercial production of its first vehicle this quarter and roll out customer deliveries by the end of 2022. Lucid Motors slashed its annual production guidance in half due to supply chain and logistics issues. The luxury EV company had originally planned to produce 20,000 Air sedans this year. In February, that number got cut down to 12,000 to 14,000. This week, Lucid said it could maybe deliver 6,000 to 7,000. The company reported $97.3 million in revenue for the second quarter, missing analyst expectations, and an adjusted net loss of $414 million. Lyft reported record earnings in the second quarter , with revenues of $990.7 million. Net loss for the quarter was $377.2 million. The company’s shares were up 4.07% in after hours trading, after the company convinced investors it was able to offset the costs of increased investments in drivers by cost-cutting internally and taking advantage of a post-COVID travel boom. Nikola reported $18.1 million in revenues on deliveries of 48 Tre BEVs and four mobile charging trailers. The EV maker, which is trying to move past its tumultuous and troubled past, closed out the quarter with a net loss of $173 million and total liquidity of $841.8 million. The company also announced the locations of three California hydrogen stations to help it scale up its long-term hydrogen distribution solutions. TuSimple reported a $2.6 million revenue, which was up 73% YoY but missed Wall Street expectations drastically. The self-driving trucking company used the earnings call to address a recent crash of one of its test trucks, in which the truck suddenly veered across the I-10 highway in Tuscon and slammed into a concrete barricade. Uber came out the gate swinging with its Q2 earnings , during which the company reported revenues of $8.1 billion, up 105% from last year. Gross bookings rose 33% to $29.1 billion from $21.9 billion a year ago. The company finished out the quarter with positive free cash flow, meaning it can now, finally, self-fund. Uber’s shares were up 14.4% after the company reported earnings. Another tidbit: Uber also sold its 7.8% stake in food delivery company Zomato for over $390 million. Miscellaneous
General Motors will soon allow drivers to use Super Cruise on more than 400,000 miles of road in the U.S. and Canada, which will double the geographic access to the hands-free driver assistance system. GM Future Roads and Inrix are offering “Safety View” to transport planners nationwide . The product is a cloud-based application that provides transportation officials with critical insights using crash, vehicle, vulnerable road user and U.S. census data to help prioritize and measure how effective roadway safety projects are and what their impact on communities is. The two entities also launched a research report that focuses on Washington, D.C. schools. They found more speeding, as well as crashes, to occur around low-income schools than high-income schools; traffic signs didn’t have a large effect on speeding; the built environment is a larger factor in vehicle speeds than signage or specific operating times of school zones. NYC’s daily subway ridership is still significantly below pre-pandemic levels, according to Observable, a data vis startup that worked with Microsoft and Oxford University to create a fun interactive of the data . Uber Freight published a white paper that finds for commercializing autonomous trucking in the near-term, the hub-to-hub model is the most practical and economically feasible starting point. The white paper also found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that autonomous trucks will fill job gaps rather than replace human drivers. UFODrive has launched its electric vehicle rental service in San Francisco . The European company offers both EV rentals and subscriptions, and plans to expand to Austin and New York this year, as well. U.S. Department of Transportation and Energy announced that all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico have submitted EV infrastructure deployment plans as required under the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program under Biden’s infrastructure bill. The plans will unlock the first round of $5 billion funding available over the next five years to help states build out a national charging network. Ridehail
TechCrunch got some inside information into how the Lyft layoffs are shaping up since the company shut down its in-house rentals unit . A spoiler: Staff were given 30 days to find a new job within Lyft or be separated from the company, but many are jaded that they weren’t simply placed into new roles and instead have to compete with outsiders. Uber is testing adding train and coach travel to its app in the U.K. after a tie-up with Berlin-based multimodal travel platform Omio.