Executive upheaval at VW Group and the tale of two Tesla earnings – TechCrunch
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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.
Last week I noted that July is the summer of the EV truck (for me). When I zoom out though, it’s looking a lot more like the summer of the course correction. Put another way, lots of companies from automakers and tech giants to suppliers and startups are restructuring, shuffling executives and laying off staff. And not just in the U.S.; this is happening in Europe as well.
Just look at Volkswagen Group. VW Group CEO Herbert Diess is leaving — and rather suddenly. The embattled CEO has been on the ropes, so to speak, for awhile now. I did expect this day to come, but not now and not in this manner.
The company announced his departure Friday just hours after Diess published a pep talk-like LinkedIn post. Porsche boss Oliver Blume is taking his spot, which leaves me with many questions, including how this might affect Porsche’s plans for an IPO. Blume is apparently staying in the top spot at Porsche and running all of VW Group. Other executive shuffling includes Volkswagen of America CEO Scott Keogh leaving to head up VW’s new spinoff EV brand Scout.
In some other cases, entire companies are shutting down. Perceptive Automata was one of those to suddenly close. Autonocast, the podcast I co-host with Ed Niedermeyer and Alex Roy, recently sat down with Sam Anthony about the startup’s collapse, what he learned and his thoughts about the AV industry. It’s rare that a founder will speak so candidly and so soon after a collapse like this. Take a listen.
And with that, let’s dive in.
Welcome to the world of tiny electric vehicles. Let’s jump right in with this past week’s news.
Cargo e-bike sales have doubled in the UK between January and May as gas prices soar.
Hawaii residents can now get an e-bike rebate of $500, capped at 20% of the purchase price.
Ola Electric is investing $500 million to set up a battery innovation center in India following a string of moped fires.
Mercedes-EQ Formula E team have created a collection of sleek-looking, high-performance, luxury e-bikes. The minimalistic design includes a concealed battery and motor, a digital dashboard, phone charging functionality and more. Currently taking preorders.
Swytch is showing off its not-quite-pocket-sized-but-still-really-small batteries that are a part of the company’s DIY e-bike conversion kit.
Tier is piloting its first in-house developed IoT module, named ‘Parrot’, in London and then Norway and France. Tier says Parrot gives scooters improved positioning and geo-fencing capabilities.
Weel has a new self-balancing bike that’s made without chains or gears, but with plenty of smart vehicle capabilities – including sensors like camera, radar and lidar.
YES Scooter has come out with a very cute e-scooter that goes up to 15 mph and costs $599.
ZapBatt has partnered with Toshiba to create a new battery option for micromobility, one that’s based on lithium titanium oxide, which the companies say make for a faster, smarter and cheaper battery.
See you next week!
— Rebecca Bellan
Deal of the week
This is not a deal of the week, per se. More of a deal ecosystem that has been created by Amazon’s drive to get as many products to customers as quickly as possible combined with a decade of technological breakthroughs, a labor shortage and skyrocketing e-commerce growth.
This fruitful convergence has led to acquisitions and large funding rounds for warehouse robotics startups. And growth appears to be limitless, according to Locus Robotics CEO Rick Faulk, Berkshire Grey SVP Jessica Moran and Melonee Wise, who founded Fetch and is now VP of robotics automation at Zebra Technologies. I interviewed the trio during the TC Sessions: Robotics event last week.
Faulk revealed during the interview that Locus is planning for an IPO in the next 12 to 18 months. Stay tuned.
Here are some other deals that got my attention this week.
Bain Capital and an Abu Dhabi Investment Authority subsidiary agreed to acquire Merchants Automotive Group, DBA Merchants Fleet and Merchants Auto.
Gbike, a Korean e-scooter company, acquired Hyundai’s micromobility platform ZET.
Koffie Insurance, Brooklyn, New York-based trucking and transportation insurance company, raised $11 million in a Series A funding round led by Anthemis Group, along with existing investors Lerer Hippeau Ventures and Plug and Play Ventures. New investors include CP Overture, Breakout Capital and Two Lanterns Venture Partners.
MOVS, a Swedish micromobility subscription service, raised $4.3 million to expand across Europe.
Natron Energy, maker of sodium-ion batteries, raised $7 million from Nabors Industries.
Notable news and other tidbits
Baidu, the Chinese search engine giant that has plowed money into AI and autonomous vehicle technology, unveiled a new all-electric robotaxi that it plans to deploy at scale across China.
Kodiak Robotics founder Don Burnette explains why autonomous freight could brush off inflation (TC+ subscription)
Pony.ai scored a permit to charge for driverless robotaxi rides in Beijing, within a 60 square kilometer area.
Tortoise (more teleops than autonomy) partnered with hospitality giant Sodexo to bring a mobile smart store to Comic-Con this year.
Earnings season is upon us and Tesla is first up. The upshot? Tesla’s second-quarter earnings report tells two stories: one of quarterly declines caused by production challenges and another showing eye-popping year-over-year growth. The question is whether the pains felt in the second quarter are now in the rearview mirror?
As per ushe, lots of news came out of the call, including some surprisingly positive solar (not solar roof tile) numbers and plans to increase the price of its branded “full self-driving” beta software, the advanced driver assistance system that CEO Elon Musk has said will mean the difference between the company “being worth a lot of money or worth basically zero.” Musk confirmed that the Cybertruck will indeed come in mid-2023. Will this date slip again?
One other note, Tesla might be able to chug along on its own, but important Musk projects may take a back seat to other distractions. Alongside controversies within Tesla, Musk also has a number of mounting problems and controversies outside of the company, namely the soured and now litigious Twitter deal and an alleged affair with the wife of Google co-founder and longtime friend Sergey Brin, may make it difficult for him to stay focused on the company.
Amazon has started delivering packages in more than a dozen cities using the custom electric van built by Rivian.
Cadillac unveiled its six-figure Celestiq sedan slated to set the direction for the brand’s electrified portfolio. It’s a great looking vehicle but I wonder if the timing if off (economically speaking).
Ford unveiled a plan that shows how it plans to shore up its battery supply chain as part of its global strategy to sell more than 2 million EVs annually by 2026. The automaker, which is investing $50 billion to scale its battery-electric portfolio through 2026, said it plans to boost battery capacity, shorten its supply chain and use lithium iron phosphate batteries for some of its EVs.
Tesla gets a dedicated border patrol lane for suppliers traveling from Nuevo León, Mexico, to Texas. The automaker is also subject to yet another special investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration involving the crash of a 2021 Tesla Model Y that killed a motorcyclist in California earlier this month.
Toyota is partnering with Suzuki Motor Corporation, Daihatsu Motor Co. and Commercial Japan Partnership Technologies to build small commercial electric vans next year.
Xiaomi, a Chinese consumer electronics manufacturer that makes e-scooters among other things, is debuting its first electric car next month.
Future of flight
Joby Aviation applied for its aircraft design to be certified in the UK. The eVTOL startup is currently pursuing “type certification” with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, as well.
Rolls-Royce and Hyundai are partnering to develop a fuel-cell electric propulsion system for advanced air mobility.
Vertical Aerospace has partnered with Babcock International, an aerospace, defense and security company, to explore new applications for its VX4 eVTOL.
Ride-hailing and delivery
Alto, a ride-hailing company that doesn’t use gig economy workers, expanded into its sixth market. Can it succeed?
Lyft has expanded its shared rides to additional markets, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, Washington D.C., Boston, Portland and San Diego. While it expands, it is also trimming staff and ending programs, like its in-house rental car program.
Uber Eats is updating its grocery delivery service with new features like scheduled delivery, better support for shoppers in-store and live order tracking for customers.
Uber agreed to settle a lawsuit alleging that the ride-hail company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by overcharging riders with disabilities.
UK’s App Drivers and Couriers Union staged a 24-hour strike to demand Uber be held accountable for the findings of the Uber files, a trove of leaked confidential documents that show how the ride-hail company broke laws, secretly lobbied governments and exploited driver safety to expand aggressively from 2013 to 2017.
A Hyundai Motor subsidiary has used child labor at a plant that supplies parts for the Korean carmaker’s assembly line in nearby Montgomery, Alabama, Reuters reported. An absolute stunning and terrible story that I’m thankful is coming to light.