The Station - Geely's Europe expansion continues, Argo robotaxis on the Lyft app and Tesla AI Day takeaways

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By Kirsten Korosec

Sunday, October 02, 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. 

The week capped off with Tesla AI Day, a recruitment slash roadshow that ended up lasting three hours. Yeah.

What did we learn and see? Tesla has made progress on its Tesla bot, also called Optimus. It is no longer a human dressed in a robot suit, but an actual robot. Will it make Boston Dynamics or Serve Robotics shake in their boots? Probably not. But it was a robot that moved, albeit briefly.

A few takeaways:
1. The event was somehow simultaneously very dense and lacking basic details that would help establish baselines and progress.
2. Tesla made a point to put employees from the AI and hardware teams on stage (this is unusual for the typical Elon-centric reveals and events)
3. There was an incredible emphasis on how the bot was equipped with components and tech used in Tesla vehicles, notably Autopilot. There is an efficiency that comes from shared parts and technology, but it also can come at great risk. Especially when said tech — ahem Autopilot — is controversial and coming under increased scrutiny by regulators.
4. Musk was asked if Tesla was still a sustainable energy company and he responded “I think the mission effectively does somewhat broaden with the advent of Optimists to you know, I don’t know, making the future awesome.” He also said that he believed that Tesla could provide a meaningful contribution to artificial general intelligence.
5. Tesla employees provided other updates, including its auto-labeling technology and the Dojo supercomputer. While Tesla employees explained these, Musk was off-stage tweeting” “Naturally, there will be a catgirl version of our Optimus.”

You can always email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions, or tips. You also can send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec

Micromobbin'

the station scooter1a

There wasn’t too much micromobility news this week, so we’ll keep this brief. Here’s what you need to know in the world of tiny electric vehicles.

Climate change is killing bees, and that’s a big problem, because bees kind of help regulate the effects of climate change. What’s this got to do with micromobility? Well, Cake launched a limited edition Kalk model bike called Flower Power that’s available in seven different color options. The company said that 5% of profits from the bikes will be donated to the World Bee Project, which is dedicated to saving the planet’s bee population.

Delfast unveiled a smaller electric moped that it’s calling the Delfast California, which has a 750W motor and reach a max speed of 28 mph, making it slightly less intense than Delfast’s more badass bike the Top 3.0.

Dott reported a 78% spike in shared micromobility rides in Brussels and a 28% increase in Paris week-over-week, during World Car-Free Day.

There’s a new scooter on the market, and it has four wheels, folds up nice, and looks pretty darn cute. But also powerful and sturdy. It’s called the Dragonfly and it’s live now on Indiegogo.

Papaya is offering a software product to help fleet operators source and manage EVs with a focus on smaller EVs that would be used by last-mile delivery companies.

Is Paris about to say ‘Bye’ to public scooter share? The city’s contracts with Lime, Dott and Tier will expire at the start of 2023 and Mayor Anne Hidalgo might not want them to return after the recent deaths of two teenagers who were riding scooters when they were hit by an ambulance.

Pure Electric is teasing a folding scooter that is expected to launch in early October. Is that a fat tire we detect, or just a play of the light?

Wall Street Journal published a statistics-heavy article arguing why e-bikes should replace cars, in case you didn’t already know.

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Deal of the week

money the station

When news broke that Chinese carmaker Geely Holding Group acquired a 7.6% share of British luxury automaker Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings, one of my co-workers (and an international reporter who covers China) exclaimed: Geely owns everyone!

It sure seems like it.

Geely was aiming to own all of Aston Martin. Instead, it settled for a small stake. Geely didn’t even get a board seat out of the deal. But no matter, Geely has squeezed a lot out of seemingly empty juice vesicles before.

Geely, which owns Lotus and is the largest shareholder of Polestar and Volvo Cars, took a 10% stake valued at $9 billion in Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler in 2018. Geely didn’t have a board seat either, but managed to exert its influence over the company, including a joint venture with the German automaker that gave it partial control of the Smart car brand.

Aston Martin also announced that it raised $732 million from investors that included Mercedes-Benz and Saudi’s Public Investment Fund participating. Yew Tree Consortium holds 19% of Aston Martin following the raise. The Public Investment Fund has become a new anchor shareholder with a 18.7% stake in the company.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Faraday Future, the struggling EV SPAC, secured up to $100 million in funding through $40 million in convertible notes and warrant exercise payments and up to $60 million in convertible notes from Hong Kong holding company Senyun International.

Gogoro signed a $345 million five-year credit facility agreement in order to increase liquidity amid uncertain economic conditions. The loan comes from a group of 10 syndicated banks led by Mega International Commercial Bank Co., according to a regulatory filing.

Harley Davidson’s electric motorcycle division spinoff, LiveWire, raised less than planned and was valued below expectations when it went public this week through a SPAC combination. Shocking! LiveWire brought in $295 million in net proceeds, which is short of the $545 million anticipated when the deal was announced in December.

Hero MotoCorp, the Indian bikemaker, is investing $60 million in California-based Zero Motorcycles to jointly develop electric motorcycles.

Indiev, an electric vehicle startup, agreed to merge with special purpose acquisition company Malacca Straits Acquisition Co.  at an implied $600 million valuation.

Kopperfield closed a $5 million seed round, co-led by General Catalyst and Lachy Groom, with participation from Giant Ventures, MCJ Collective, Shopify founder Tobi Lütke, Coinbase board member Gokul Rajaram, Arcadia Power founder Kiran Bhatraju, First Round Capital partner Cristina Cordova and other angel investors.

Porsche’s landmark IPO kicked off with a bang and ended flat in its first day of trading.

RoboSense, a Chinese developer of sensor technologies, is raising about $150 million in a new funding round that included investors China Structural Reform Fund and Mirae Asset Securities Co., Bloomberg reported citing unnamed sources.

 

Notable reads and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Argo AI’s robotaxis are now operating on the Lyft network in Austin, Texas. This is a public service and the second city in which Lyft and Argo are operating a commercial robotaxi operation after Miami, which launched in December.

Aurora announced its 4th generation Driver, which can now detect and maneuver around a variety of objects and debris on the road and detect repainted lines in complex construction zones.

May Mobility and Via are launching a small fleet of wheelchair-accessible autonomous vehicles in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

Mobileye and Geely Holding Group are expanding their ADAS and AV collaboration, with three more Geely brands integrating Mobileye SuperVision technology beginning next year.

Serve Robotics is doing a two-week pilot with Pizza Hut in Vancouver, Canada. If the pilot goes well, it could lead to further expansion in the country.

In a series of simulated tests, Waymo’s driver avoided crashes better than a virtual representation of a hyper-attentive driver.

Electric vehicles, batteries & charging

Arrival produced its first battery-electric van at the company’s Microfactory in Bicester, U.K., which uses autonomous mobile robots instead of a traditional assembly line. The remaining vans built this year will be earmarked for testing, validation and quality control, rather than customer delivery.

BMW unveiled the XM, a high-performance plug-in hybrid SUV meant to lure buyers from the ultra-luxury segment’s Lamborghini Urus and Aston Martin DBX. Starting just below $160,000, the 644-horsepower crossover is among the most powerful and expensive vehicles in its portfolio.

Bp pulse is teaming up with Hertz to build a network of private charging stations to support the rental car company’s EV push. The two are also exploring the development of a network of fast-charging hubs available to ridehail and the public.

ChargerHelp has partnered with Tesla improve reliability and consumer confidence in charging access.

Foxconn has started production of Lordstown Motors’s electric pickup truck.

General Motors and OneD Battery Sciences are teaming up on a joint research venture into building more efficient batteries for electric vehicles. GM’s venture arm also participated in OneD’s recent Series C round that raised 25 million in new funding.

New York follows California and mandates that all new passenger cars, pickup trucks and SUVs sold in New York state must be zero emissions by 2035.

Volkswagen (specifically its battery business PowerCo) and Belgian technology group Umicore formed a $3 billion joint venture to produce cathode material to power 2.2 million EVs by the end of the decade.

Future of flight

Lilium wants to make 400 eVTOLs per year, but it needs money. The company is, for the first time, tapping schemes that provide public research support.

In-car tech

Amazon released its second-gen version of Echo Auto, a smaller device that is easier to mount and aimed at broadening the e-commerce giant’s reach by bringing its Alexa voice assistant to more vehicles.

BMW will use Amazon Alexa as the foundation of its next-generation voice assistant.

Citroën came out with a concept car that uses a specialized, super strong cardboard instead of steel to replace the metal in a car’s roof and hood. The point is to imagine how carmakers can make do in the resource-less hellscape we’re all careening into.

On-demand rides and rentals

Kyte is expanding its on-demand rental car service outside Miami and into over 15 neighborhoods in Fort Lauderdale. Just in time for hurricane season.

People

Airbnb co-founder and billionaire Joe Gebbia has joined Tesla’s board as an independent director.

Charly Mwangi, the former executive vice president of manufacturing at Rivian, who previously worked at Tesla, is now a partner at Eclipse Ventures.

Lyft has canceled job interviews and issued a hiring freeze in the U.S., according to anonymous professional network Blind.

Treepz CEO Onyeka Akumah talks to TechCrunch’s Rebecca Bellan about how to succeed in transportation in the latest edition of our founder’s Q&A series.

Read more stories on TechCrunch.com

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