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Building products for future needs with Bling Capital and Shift on TechCrunch Live by Matt Burns originally published on TechCrunch

Reviver is building a company one number plate at a time

Do you want to run an “easy” startup? Be a coder, and realize that some aspect of your workflow is needlessly complicated. Create a tool to fix that, and spin it out as a dev-tools company. Get your first 100 customers from all of your friends, then raise $5 million to sell it to everyone else, and eventually, GitHub or Salesforce gets bored of paying you to use the tools and buys the whole company instead. Not to make light of how hard it is to build any company, but that certainly is one of the easiest ways of making a couple of million dollars.

Reviver is pretty much exactly the opposite of that. If you’ve been driving around in California, Colorado or Arizona, you may have seen its product: e-ink number plates. The first time I saw one, I thought “wow, that’s a brave thing for some hacker to put on their car,” but then I realized it was the first of a wave of electronic number plates. Seeing as how I’m a startup and hardware nerd, I got curious, and the next time I saw one of the plates on a parked car, I made a note of the company’s name.

The product itself isn’t complicated; it’s an e-ink display that needs to update once per year (when your tax gets paid), and that’s about it. Building a company in that space, though, is a special kind of lunacy that I have a lot of respect for. The company’s co-founder, Neville Boston, is basically trying to build a company under the hardest conditions imaginable. It’s an easy-to-copy hardware product (basically, a sturdy Kindle) in a heavily regulated (anything automotive) industry that touches the DMV databases. The product must work in freezing cold, sweltering heat and cities where people “park by touch” as if bumpers are meant to be used. And for these things to end up on people’s cars in the first place, the company needed to jump through an almost unimaginable series of hoops, in a permanent standoff against bureaucrats who don’t really have any incentive to let change happen. It’s a perfect storm. If anyone came to me with this as an idea for a business, I’d advise them to run the other way. So, naturally, I called up the company’s co-founder to figure out why he’s such a sucker for punishment.

The company has raised in excess of $70 million and has around 65 employees. Headquartered in Granite Bay, California, the company has offices all over the world, and today there are around 30,000 cars driving around with its e-ink number plates. The company hopes to get that number to 50,000 by the end of the year, and grow exponentially from there.

“When you think about the valley… Andreessen Horowitz said that software eats the world. Everybody’s looking at things being spun up quickly, getting funded quickly, and you exit quickly,” Boston said in an interview with TechCrunch last week. “You’ve made all this money, and it’s fantastic. I think what we are doing is uniquely different because it is highly regulated. Number plates were a market ripe for disruption.”

That’s right, the humble number plate. In the U.S., you get them after a series of more or less (usually more) frustrating visits to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The challenge is that a lot of these systems all run on really old computer systems, and interfacing with them is rather different from what you might imagine if you’re used to modern APIs and the aforementioned dev tools.

“They are still on mainframes running COBOL,” laughs Boston. “They’re really behind the times, and everything the DMV does involves paperwork. Whether you’re getting your registration or your driver’s license or whatever; there’s so much paperwork, and it has not been modernized. Their systems are old. They are bringing back retirees to work on the systems because they are the only ones who know how the systems are working.”

It’s a perfect storm, in a way: Old systems ripe for modernization, run by an almost universally hated institution. And then, a global pandemic wreaks havoc, meaning that for a while there, people couldn’t safely go into the DMV to get their admin done. Surely, there has to be a better way? That’s the solution Reviver thinks it has come up with.

“When I started to talk to people about digitizing the plate, to my surprise, everybody was open to it, because they realized that I was looking at it from a partnership point of view. I didn’t want to be a customer; I wanted to be a partner. I wanted to talk to you about things that were broken and then talk about ways of fixing them — not just for you, but for every institution across the country,” says Boston. “We had a platform that actually worked. It turned out to be a long conversation because it’s a sea change from what had been done before, and there were people that were a little nervous because, especially in government, nobody likes change.”

But in a country where there are hundreds of millions of cars, and in a world where there are many more than that again, it’s certainly a huge market that warrants a closer look. So that’s what Reviver set out to do: Fix some of the core problems with the way number plates are distributed and road taxes are handled, all through the medium of the humble number plate.

“When you start talking about EVs and autonomous vehicles and all the things that you need to have in place in order to have the highway of the future, then you start really realizing that this is a big deal. Regardless of whether you’re in Bakersfield, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago or Florida, it doesn’t matter. The license plate is how law enforcement recognizes compliance with your vehicle,” Boston explains. “And it’s not just here in the States. It’s also in Africa and in China and in Australia; all the same across the board. I saw that as a huge opportunity — anybody that has a car should have a plate.”

And while it may seem intense to start the company in the first place, things get a lot more interesting when you realize that having the first-mover advantage in the context of shifting how things are done within the government layer of things gets you a pretty formidable head start.

“I’ve developed relationships with just about every DMV director across the country. I’ve worked with the Department of Transportation. I’m working with law enforcement,” Boston lists off, explaining the breadth and depth of the company’s moat.

Having a deep moat isn’t enough, however; there are a lot of challenges with tackling the 50-odd different sets of rules and regulations to bring this product to market. The company’s products are available in California, Arizona, Michigan and Texas. For government vehicles, the plates are also legal in Colorado, Illinois, Georgia and Florida. The distinction is a little fuzzy; but in the states where it’s legal but not selling, it means it has a connection with the DMV and is working on plotting a route to market.

“There is legislation in the works in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Washington and Nevada,” Boston rattles off. “There’s a lot happening, and our focus is on the top 10 vehicle markets in the U.S. We put our energy there because we had initial conversations with other players who wanted to get involved once we had 50% of the driving population.”

The company is eager to give a lot of credit to the various government organizations that have enabled them to operate. In a world where people aren’t the biggest fans of change, someone has to stick their neck out at least a little bit to make digital plates a possibility.

“I think the partnership aspect is vitally important; to have a public-private partnership where everybody wins. They’re getting benefits from it. We are getting the freedom to operate. When it comes to the government, all you hear about are the problems. You don’t really hear about the successes; I want to give them praise for being forward-thinking and saying ‘this makes sense.’ And all we’re looking for is the ability to operate in the state,” Boston explains.

The company has two products; a battery-powered number plate and a wired-in plate. The latter is aimed at fleet use, and adds a bunch of additional functionality, including GPS, accelerometers and other features that are focused on fleet management.

The main thing the electronic plates unlocks is convenience for the drivers, and flexibility for the governing bodies.

“If a state wants to change what it puts on the number plates to be on compliance, they can, but if the cost is that they have to send out another 5 million plates in order to do it… it stops innovation,” argues Boston. One example is that California has the month and year of the car’s registration on the plate. In Arizona, they don’t. Changing that would be hard, but digital plates unlocks that sort of thing. “That’s why having the digital display is so key. It enables the states to move into the future.”

The company has an eye to the future too. The company suggests that connecting the plate to the traffic systems means that they can do smart routing and traffic balancing, for example. Much like what a company like Waze already does, and, frankly, may be better positioned to do, given how many people use maps on their phones already. Self-driving might be another possibility where smart plates could come in handy.

When the vehicle is autonomously driving, you could actually have the plate signify that so that, you know, across the board, whenever you see this circle with a dot in it, it means that it’s an autonomous mode,” says Boston. “Some cues can be developed, changed or improved because of the technology. I think that that’s it because everybody looks at the plate as a way of identifying information about the vehicle. That means that you could use that real estate to do a lot of really creative things.”

Rivian delivers on Q2 revenue, expects loss to widen another $700M

Rivian is holding on tight to its goal of delivering 25,000 electric vehicles by year’s end, but to get there it now anticipates to burn an extra $700 million.

The automaker tucked the revised guidance within its second quarter earnings report, telling investors that it expects to lose a whopping $5.45 billion in 2022, up from the $4.75 billion estimate it shared three months earlier. Rivian blamed the hike on several factors, including “supply chain challenges” and “raw material inflation.”

In Q2, Rivian lost $1.71 billion and delivered 4,467 vehicles. Those deliveries include the automaker’s SUV and truck as well as the delivery vans it builds for Amazon. (Altogether, Rivian delivered 5,694 vehicles during the first half of the year.)

Still, Rivian cruised past analysts’ expectations on revenue, bringing in $364 million in Q2 (or about $26 million more than analysts anticipated, per Yahoo Finance). Demand for the EV firm’s SUVs and trucks also kept climbing; its backlog of preorders hit 98,000 at the end of June, Rivian told investors.

The company also announced the addition of former Bosch and Daimler exec Harald Kroeger to its board.

Over the past few months, Rivian has created some comfortable distance from its 52-week low of $19.25 per share. That slump came in May, when Ford dumped millions of Rivian shares. Today, the young-ish EV maker ended regular trading at $38.95 per share, or up 4%.

Last month, Rivian started laying off about 6% of its workforce as part of a restructuring plan prompted by a changing and challenging economic environment, where inflation reached record highs, interest rates rose and commodity prices continued its upwards climb.

The manufacturing operations team working at its Normal, Illinois plant were not be impacted by layoffs.

3 things to watch for on Rivian’s Q2 earnings day

Rivian, the EV startup that went public last year in one of the largest IPOs in U.S. history, has bucked the trend set by Tesla and other EV makers during the first half of the year.

Tesla, the world’s largest EV maker, reported two consecutive quarters of delivery declines stemming from delays in the supply chain and COVID-related lockdowns in Shanghai that stymied production its Gigafactory there.

Lucid has cut its 2022 production forecast several times this year, now targeting 6,000 to 7,000 vehicles, down from its original plan to build 20,000. U.K.-based Arrival said Thursday that it is slashing its 2022 target from 400 to 600 vehicles down to just 20.

Meanwhile, Rivian, which set a goal to own more than 10% of the global market eventually, said it has ramped up production so far this year – a mix of the Rivian R1T pickup truck, R1S SUV and the EDV commercial electric vans it is making for Amazon – and reaffirmed its target to deliver 25,000 vehicles this year.

However, the Irvine, California-based manufacturer faces the same financial pressures affecting the automotive industry. In July, it began laying off 900 employees – about 6% of its workforce – as part of a restructuring plan.

We’ll be tuning into Rivian’s second-quarter financial results after the market closes Thursday to see how it plans to navigate the industry’s headwinds, including ongoing supply chain issues and production hurdles.

What analysts and TechCrunch will be watching out for 

Per data from Yahoo Finance, analysts expect that Rivian generated Q2 2022 revenue of $337.52 million, more than triple the $95 million it reported for the first quarter of the year. Rivian did not begin generating revenue until Q3 2021.

Restructuring

We’ll be tuning in for news on Rivian’s layoffs, which are hitting every department, with one important exception — manufacturing operations at its Normal, Illinois factory.

We need to be able to continue to grow and scale without additional financing in this macro environment,” CEO RJ Scaringe wrote in an internal email. “To achieve this, we have simplified our product roadmap and focused on where it is most impactful to deploy capital.”

The automaker may provide updates on its quarterly call with analysts Thursday and outline the details of its overall plan to cut costs.

Amazon

Amazon, Rivian’s largest customer, began in July delivering packages using its EDV commercial electric vans.

The initial rollout includes routes in Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Nashville, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle and St. Louis, and will cover more than 100 cities by the end of the year, according to Amazon. The company is targeting more than 100,000 EV delivery vans on the road by 2030.

We’ll be listening Thursday for any guidance on Rivian’s plans to deliver more vans to Amazon, which owns an 18% stake in the company, as well as any initial findings Rivian has gleaned so far on the van’s performance, safety and durability in different climates and geographies.

Production

We’ll also be looking for an update on Rivian’s new factory near Atlanta, which received Georgia’s largest-ever $1.5 billion incentives package. Its second factory is expected to break ground this summer and begin production in 2024.

Until then, the automaker plans to develop its future R2 platform, as well as enhance the R1 platform that underpins its electric truck and SUV.

Rivian has said that its new lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery pack will launch in its commercial vehicles for Amazon later this year and serve as the standard architecture for R1T pickups and R1S SUVs starting in late 2023.

Orange EV raises a truckload of cash to make yard trucks less dinosaur-y

Sure, they aren’t as sexy as a Tesla, and they don’t get the press columns of long-haul trucking, but so-called yard trucks are an interesting subset of vehicles that benefit disproportionally from being electric. Orange EV just raised a truck-load of cash to electrify one of the easiest-to-electrify corners of the logistics pipelines: the trucks that are commonly used to move trailers and containers in distribution centers, plants, warehouses, rail intermodals, ports, and other facilities where goods movement is mission critical.

The company has been around for a hot minute. Based in Kansas City, MO, it launched its very first electric yard truck back in 2015 and has been innovating ever since.

“Orange EV’s mission is to deliver electric vehicles that are better than legacy diesel ones in every way — for the earth, people, and the business bottom line,” said Kurt Neutgens, Orange EV co-founder and CTO in a statement to TechCrunch. “With this funding, Orange EV will be able to further scale its impact through continued investment in manufacturing to meet the demand that is outstripping our current facilities, as well as advance R&D to develop and deliver other products, which will further improve our customers’ operations while providing them significant savings.”

It’s the perfect storm for EVs; the trucks have incredible torque, are quiet, don’t blast a bunch of diesel fumes in dockworkers’ faces, and need essentially no maintenance. There’s also no fear of range anxiety: The trucks spend most of their lives in a two-mile radius of home base, which means they can be charged overnight and on lunch breaks, and if it runs low on juice, you can cruise over to the charging station and get a top-up.

The company today announced it closed a $35 million round of funding led by S2G Ventures and CCI. The money will be used to support and accelerate the company’s growth.

Arrival slashes production targets to just 20 EV vans as part of restructuring

Arrival, the U.K.-based commercial EV startup turned publicly traded company, has lowered its delivery plans from 400 vehicles to 20 as it postpones development of its battery-electric buses and shifts gears to focus on vans.

The company, which reported Thursday widening losses for the second quarter, said it no longer expects to generate revenue in 2022.

“We are switching from the mode where we have two products, two shifts and two micro factories to the mode where it’s one factory, one shift, one product,” CEO Denis Sverdlov said during a call with analysts. “We believe that this opportunity to switch gives us better chances to be successful.”

Sverdlov’s comments confirm a Financial Times report last week citing unnamed sources that the company was shelving its electric bus and an electric vehicle designed in partnership with Uber. plans to focus on the van. Arrival revealed in May 2022 at a TechCrunch event the first prototype of its purpose-built electric vehicle for ride-hailing.

For the second-quarter, Arrival reported a loss of $89.6 million, compared with a loss of $56.2 million in the second quarter of 2021. The adjusted EBITDA loss for the period was $76.2 million, compared with a $41.2 million loss during the same period last year.

The company has faced several delays since going public in March 2021 through a $660 million SPAC deal with CIIG Merger. Production delays triggered a class-action lawsuit against the company, which now plans to open its Charlotte, North Carolina, factory next year.   

Arrival had initially expected to deliver between 400 and 600 vehicles in 2022.

“Originally we wanted to make many shifts to push the volumes for the end of the year,” Svedlov said. “We decided that strategically it’s better for us to spend cash, be much more careful and focus on delivering first vehicles in perfect condition to our customers, and then scale from that point.”

Last month, Arrival signaled plans to slash costs and cut as much as 30% of its workforce in an effort to protect the business from a challenging economic environment while meeting its production targets. The plan was designed to allow the company to meet its targets through late 2023 using the $500 million of cash it has on hard, the company said at the time.

Arrival ended the second quarter with about $513 million of cash and cash equivalents and said it began restructuring the business to reduce costs. The company also is aiming to raise money through a $300 million at-the-market offering.

Ralph Nader asks NHTSA to recall Tesla’s ‘dangerous and irresponsible’ FSD

Ralph Nader, a political and consumer advocate and former presidential candidate, has issued a statement calling Tesla’s “so-called” full self-driving (FSD) technology “one of the most dangerous and irresponsible actions by a car company in decades.”

Nader is calling on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to use its safety recall authority to order that FSD technology be removed in every Tesla. Per CEO Elon Musk’s recent statements, that’s about 100,000 vehicles.

The author of the bestselling book “Unsafe at Any Speed,” which criticized the American auto industry, cited research that found FSD malfunctions every eight minutes. That research was published in January by The Dawn Project, an organization aiming to ban unsafe software from safety critical systems that put out a full-page ad in The New York Times slating Tesla’s FSD, which analyzed data from 21 YouTube videos of Tesla owners using FSD beta software.

“This nation should not allow this malfunctioning software which Tesla itself warns may do the ‘wrong thing at the worst time’ on the same streets where children walk to school,” wrote Nader. “Together we need to send an urgent message to the casualty-minded regulators that Americans must not be test dummies for a powerful, high-profile corporation and its celebrity CEO. No one is above the laws of manslaughter.”

Nader’s callout comes as Tesla is gearing up to release the next version of its FSD software, version 10.69, on August 20. Musk tweeted out the announcement, saying nothing about the next iteration’s capabilities other than: “This release will be big.” During Tesla’s Q2 earnings call, Musk also said Tesla would increase the price of the software and that the automaker was hoping to “solve full self-driving” by this year.

Really, Nader should be targeting Tesla’s Autopilot, as well. Tesla and Musk have been adamant in the past that FSD has not been responsible for any crashes or deaths. (However, a recent YouTube video from AI Addict shows a Tesla in FSD mode colliding with a bike lane barrier post.) Autopilot, on the other hand, has likely been the cause of several crashes. NHTSA is currently investigating 16 crashes in which Tesla owners were potentially engaging Autopilot and then crashed into stationary emergency vehicles, resulting in 15 injuries and one fatality. Since 2016, there have been 38 special investigations into crashes involving Tesla vehicles, of which 18 were fatal.

Other automakers have come out with similar ADAS technology, and based on NHTSA’s recent ADAS crash report, appear to have far fewer crashes. It’s difficult to compare how dangerous Tesla’s technology is in relation to its rivals, in part because there are far more ADAS-equipped Teslas on the road than any other vehicle.

NHTSA did not respond immediately for a request for comment.

In a pair of July 28 filings, the California Department of Motor Vehicles accused Tesla of false advertising to promote its Autopilot and FSD technologies — both of which are advanced driver assistance systems and do not provide full autonomous driving. While Tesla’s website states that “the currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous,” the DMV told the Los Angeles Times that the disclaimer “contradicts the original untrue or misleading labels and claims, which is misleading, and does not cure the violation.”

The California DMV also said earlier this year that it was revisiting its approach to regulating Tesla’s autonomous vehicle technology, as the agency does with every other company that claims to pursue full self-driving and does public road testing. Tesla has gotten away without reporting crashes and system failures to the DMV for so long because its systems fall under the ADAS category, which requires a human driver must be present. However, after reviewing dozens of videos showing “dangerous use” of that technology — and such use is informed by the way Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk speak about the technology — the DMV decided to reevaluate.

This reevaluation is ongoing, and the DMV told TechCrunch it could not comment until it is complete. That said, based on the DMV’s most recent claims that Tesla is falsely advertising, Tesla could be facing revocation of its licenses to make or sell its cars in California, in the worst case. That probably won’t happen, but if it did, it would spell trouble for the EV maker. California is home to Tesla’s most loyal buyer base.

Musk has had a fraught relationship with the state ever since May 2020, when Alameda County ordered Tesla to shutter its Fremont factory to stop the spread of COVID. In October last year, Musk announced Tesla would be moving its headquarters to Austin, Texas.

The celebrity executive has also repeatedly underlined the importance of FSD to the company, saying in June that without it, Tesla is “worth basically zero.” It is likely based on the belief by many, including Nader, that FSD is not what it’s cracked up to be; Nader went on to tweet Wednesday that Tesla’s stock is vastly overvalued.

“Tesla and @elonmusk exposed the technological stagnation of the auto companies and broke ground with EVs and other climate-benign technologies,” tweeted Nader. “However, a fast moving company can not obscure wildly speculative stock valuation on top of a general stock market bubble that could implode on pension and mutual fund savings of millions of Americans. Fundamentals can’t be ignored.” 

Nikola taps its president for CEO post

Electric truck maker Nikola announced Wednesday that President Michael Lohscheller will become CEO on January 1.

Lohscheller, who will replace CEO Mark Russell upon his retirement, has joined the Nikola Board of Directors, effective immediately. He served as CEO of Opel and VinFast, as well as CFO at Volkswagen Group of America and Mitsubishi Motors Europe, before joining Nikola as President in March, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Since then, the company brought its long-delayed Tre battery-electric vehicle into series production and began piloting a hydrogen fuel cell version of the Tre with Total Transportation Services.

“In his six months since joining our company, Michael has continued to bring an increased sense of urgency, high level of accountability, improved lines of communication and accelerated decision-making to Nikola Motor,” Steve Girsky, Nikola’s Chairman of the Board, said in a statement.

Nikola’s stock price rose 5.9% on the news during pre-market trading Wednesday. The share price was flat as of 10 a.m. ET.

The startup has struggled since going public through a $3.3 billion merger with special purpose acquisition company VectolQ in June 2020.

After making headlines for its eye-popping $29 billion valuation, the company was slowed by a string of controversies stemming from its founder Trevor Milton, which resulted in his removal as CEO and a $125 million penalty to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for deceiving investors.

The SEC said that Milton misled investors on numerous fronts including the company’s technological advancements and production capabilities. Milton was charged with criminal fraud.

Nikola reported Thursday a second-quarter net loss of $173 million, or 41 cents per share, on revenues of $18.1 million.

The company said it had produced 50 Nikola Tre BEVs in its Coolidge, Arizona, factory and that it remains on track to deliver between 300 and 500 of the trucks by the end of the year.

 

 

Ford locks in solar energy deal with DTE Energy

Ford said Wednesday it has reached a deal with DTE Energy to power its electricity supply in Michigan with clean energy, a step toward its goal to become carbon neutral by 2050.

The automaker’s deal with DTE, Michigan’s largest producer of renewable energy, will add 650 megawatts of new solar energy capacity in the state by 2025, allowing the carmaker to assemble each vehicle it makes there with renewable energy.

Ford called the deal the largest-ever renewable energy purchase from a utility in the U.S. The arrangement will help Ford decarbonize its operations and meet its sustainability goals, including a target to power all of its global facilities with renewable energy by 2035.

Ford said the purchase will help it cut its carbon dioxide emissions by up to 600,000 tons. Overall, Ford’s arrangement with DTE will increase Michigan’s solar capacity by 70%, according to the automaker.

The announcement comes one day after Ford said it will raise the price of its electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck between $6,000 and $8,500 for new orders.

“Due to significant material cost increases and other factors, Ford has adjusted MSRP starting with the opening of the next wave of F-150 Lightning orders,” a statement read.

The entry-level Lightning will now retail for $46,974, while the top-tier “Platinum Extended Range” version starts at $96,874. The price increase will not apply to customers who have already ordered a truck and are awaiting delivery.

Ford also said the truck’s standard range battery can now travel 240 miles, up from 230 miles, on a full charge.

Elon Musk sells nearly $7 billion in Tesla shares

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is at it again selling shares of his electric vehicle company, per a regulatory filings. Since Friday, the executive has sold 7.9 million shares, which totals about $6.9 billion. This is the first time Musk has sold shares in Tesla since April, when he disposed of 9.6 million shares, worth about $8.5 billion.

Musk, usually an avid tweeter, has been mum on social media as to why he’s shedding his stake in the company yet again. Over the last ten months, Musk has sold around $32 billion worth of stock in Tesla.

Tesla shares were down 2.44% today but are trading relatively flat in after-hours, suggesting the stock sales are yet to have an effect on Tesla’s share price. Tesla’s stock took a hit late last year when Musk sold off more than $16 billion worth of sales after polling his Twitter fans on whether he should trim his stake, a move that got him in hot water with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

When Musk sold stake back in April, TechCrunch mulled the possibility of the executive putting the money towards his $44 billion Twitter acquisition. Last month, Musk told Twitter he’s killing the deal because he believed the social media company to be misleading in its bot calculations. However, over the weekend, the executive waffled a bit, tweeting: “If Twitter simply provides their method of sampling 100 accounts and how they’re confirmed to be real, the deal should proceed on original terms. However, if it turns out that their SEC filings are materially false, then it should not.”

The recent insider trading could also have something to do with Tesla’s plans to issue a three-to-one stock split, which was approved by Tesla shareholders last week. We’ll keep an eye out for Musk buying back those shares on the cheap once the split goes through.