The Station: TuSimple loses the driver, Nikola settles and transpo predictions for 2022
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Hello readers: Welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.
Your usual host, Kirsten Korosec, is taking a much-deserved holiday out in nature, so I’ll be taking over this week to give you the news and wish you both a Happy New Year and a swift hangover recovery.
It’s officially 2022, but let’s take a quick look over the past year. To quickly sum up — everyone bought e-bikes; robotaxis and autonomous trucks are getting closer to commercialization; teleoperated sidewalk delivery robots are becoming a thing; the National Highway Traffic and Safety Association is keeping an eye on the likes of Tesla and Chevy; pretty much every OEM is investing serious cash into electrifying, and that includes battery joint ventures; and eVTOLs got a huge amount of investment.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into that last. My colleague Aria Alamalhodaei wrote a two-part series on the trends shaping the eVTOL space. The first part looked back at 2021, highlighting such trends as:
SPACs have been taking off and helping fuel a stupid amount of money into the industry, with companies like Archer Aviation, Joby Aviation, Lilium and Vertical Aerospace all merging with blank check companies.
On-the-ground infrastructure, like vertiports and chargers, is turning into its own business unit, and companies like Archer, Hyundai and Volocopter are exploring ways to integrate air mobility into a city’s existing transport networks.
There have been increased orders for eVTOL aircraft, starting with United Airline’s $1 billion order with Archer.
Automakers — like Hyundai, Honda and Xpeng — are investing resources into building their own flying cars.
All of this movement is setting the stage for what’s to come in 2022. Some of Aria’s predictions are:
“The main story of 2022, it’s definitely going to be certification,” Sergio Cecutta, founder and partner at SMG Consulting, said. “It’s the year of put up or shut up.”
More automakers will start getting involved in the space. That much is clear from major investments from Toyota and Stellantis into Joby and a manufacturing deal with Archer, respectively.
More SPAC deals. Aria writes that it’s not a given, “but the high capital demands of aviation could mean more startups are still looking for a huge injection of cash via the public markets.”
If you have any thoughts, criticisms, tips or opinions you’d like to share, you can email me at email@example.com.
Since we’re making predictions, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share some thoughts about what 2022 may hold for the world of micromobility. I spoke to a few experts and came up with some interesting, and even wacky, responses.
Crystal ball says…
More e-bikes will hit the shared micromobility space.
Fresh VC money is drying up and there aren’t likely to be more new entrants into the space. Those who have made it this far are likely here to stay, and they’re becoming more mature and more efficient.
That said, the ride-hail companies (aka Uber and Lyft) might be coming back to play, says Segway’s Tony Ho, based on orders and inquiries for vehicles he’s seeing come in.
All that scooter ADAS we started to see last year? Yeah, it’s here to stay, and will only increase. But that’s not all! Buckle up for smarter vehicles that will not only affect the way you ride, but will also provide operators with more monetization opportunities. Data. Is. Everything. Operators will be looking for ways to sell sensor data.
Horace Dediu, industry analyst and co-host of the Micromobility Podcast, reckons there’ll be far more integration of micromobiilty options with transit planning apps like Google Maps.
He also said we can expect a marriage between micromobility and the metaverse. The f&%!, you might be thinking. Wait for it. Imagine a smart helmet with an augmented reality-enabled visor, pointing out directions for you or enticing you into the nearest coffee shop with a floating coupon!
New, heavier, form factors. Personally, I wanna see a tiny vehicle with a roof, already! We don’t all love getting caught in the rain.
Better integration of micromobility offerings with public transit.
In other news…
Voi just raised a $115 million Series D in what it describes as an oversubscribed funding round that will help it expand into new markets. As scooter companies consolidate their power, such a big raise this late in the game is definitely significant.
Wind Mobility, which has sold off Italian and Israeli operations in recent months, is now upgrading its e-scooter fleet in Nottingham and Derby in the U.K. with LINK e-scooters from Superpedestrian. Users will now need to download the LINK app to continue using Wind’s service… so is it really Wind’s service anymore?
Superpedestrian also launched 150 seated scooters in Baltimore to provide a safer and more comfortable transportation option to people with disabilities and older riders.
Deal of the week
What with the holidays, there haven’t been too many deals, but I did notice AI chip maker Kneron’s $25 million raise. The Chinese startup will use the funding to start making chips for autonomous driving applications. This move comes as the company possibly prepares to go public in the U.S. in the next few years, and with an increased number of AV companies aiming to scale over the same time frame, Kneron might be one to watch.
The other deal that caught my eye is South Africa’s Planet42, a car subscription company that buys used cars from dealerships and rents to customers, which just raised $30 million in equity and debt. The round is a bridge round, a precursor to a Series A, and it will help the company expand into the Mexican market.
Planet42 has an interesting business model that it calls “socially inclusive.” As a company that provides services in emerging markets, it helps people who perhaps have unstable incomes or unimpressive credit scores access vehicles that could potentially change their lives.
Notable news and other tidbits
Waymo is partnering with Chinese automaker Geely to build an all-electric, self-driving ride-hailing vehicle. The companies will integrate Waymo Driver, Waymo’s AV system, into Geely’s Zeekr vehicles for use in U.S. markets “in the years to come.”
TuSimple has completed its first autonomous truck run on open public roads without a human in the vehicle or any human intervention. Its autonomous driving system fully navigated an 80-mile run along surface streets and highways between Tuscon, Arizona and Phoenix, marking a milestone for the company that aims to scale its technology into purpose-built trucks by 2024, says president and CEO Cheng Lu.
Iveco joined Plus to launch a pilot in Europe and China that aims to start validating and integrating Plus’s autonomous trucking technology with Iveco’s latest gen S-Way heavy-duty truck.
AutoX built a Level 4 robotaxi production facility in China to manufacture its gen 5 vehicles, which it says can operate without safety drivers in the vehicle.
FedEx has received its first five GM-built Brightdrop electric delivery vans out of an order of 500. The move represents an important landmark for FedEx in its stated goal to have an all-electric delivery fleet and be carbon neutral around the world by 2040.
Gravity launched a fleet of all-electric NYC yellow taxis, which includes Ford Mustang Mach-E cabs.
Nikola has come to a resolution with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commissio, agreeing to pay $125 million to settle charges that it defrauded investors by misleading them about its products, technical advancements and commercial prospects.
Arrival has begun trialing its Arrival Bus at a testing facility in the U.K., where it will perform rigorous testing so that it can gain certification to operate on public roads.
Israeli driver monitoring system (DMS) company Cipia will be integrating its tech into Chinese automaker SAIC’s Roewe RX5 MAX car to detect when a driver is distracted or drowsy.
Reporter Rita Liao wrote a deep dive on Chinese internet giant Meituan’s dominance of the drone delivery space in Shenzhen. Over the past two years, the company has flown 19,000 meals to 8,000 customers across seven neighborhoods in the city. Now, the company is gearing up to double down on its aerial delivery ambitions. Meituan recently applied for a permit to operate a commercial drone delivery service across all of Shenzhen, which is expected to receive approval in 2022. Meituan’s competition, Alibaba-backed Ele.me and e-commerce powerhouse JD.com, have also invested in similar drone delivery services in recent years.