Hyzon Motors’ hydrogen fuel ambitions include two US factories

Hyzon Motors plans to produce fuel cells, including a critical component required to power hydrogen vehicles, at two U.S. factories in a move aimed at kickstarting domestic production at a commercial scale.

The hydrogen-powered truck and bus manufacturer has already leased a 28,000-square-foot facility in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook and plans to expand it by an additional 80,000 square feet. Production at the Chicago facility is expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2021. The announcement comes just three weeks after Hyzon announced it would become a publicly traded company through a merger with Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corporation in a deal valued at $2.1 billion, and a little over one week after revealing plans to renovate a 78,000-square-foot factory in Monroe County, New York.

Hyzon is a new name with a nearly two decades of experience. The company was established in March of last year after spinning off from Singapore’s Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, which has been developing commercial applications for fuel cells since 2003. Hyzon inked a deal in February with the New Zealand company Hiringa Energy for up to 1,500 fuel cell trucks on New Zealand’s roads by 2026. Now it is setting its sights on the North American hydrogen fuel cell vehicle market. Due to the lack of an established domestic hydrogen fueling network, the company is targeting heavy-duty vehicle customers that have a “back-to-base” business model.

Hyzon’s decision to build factories in the United States is noteworthy because production of fuel cell materials in the country lags far behind Europe and Asia. The U.S. also lacks the kind of national hydrogen refueling and infrastructure network found abroad.

“Hydrogen is much more available in places like Germany or The Netherlands,” Hyzon CEO Craig Knight said in an interview with TechCrunch. “There’s already a number of commercial vehicle stations where you can just pull up and pay to fill up like you do with gasoline today in the U.S. It won’t be long before that is a reality, but for the moment we limit the dependence on networks of hydrogen stations by focusing on the customers that use back-to-base operating models, where you only need one piece of hydrogen infrastructure to fuel dozens or even sometimes hundreds of vehicles in a given area.”

Much of the hydrogen that’s produced in the U.S. is so-called “grey hydrogen,” or hydrogen that’s produced from natural gas. An increasing number of companies are pursuing “green hydrogen,” or hydrogen produced via electrolysis powered by renewable energy. Hyzon sources both types for its operations. Hydrogen production remains one of the main factors determining the rate of scale for fuel cell producers.

The Chicago facility will design, develop and produce the membrane electrode assembly, the fuel cell component that helps trigger the electrochemical reaction required to produce power. The company anticipates the new facility will be able to produce enough MEAs for up to 12,000 fuel cell-powered trucks annually.

Finished MEAs will be sent to the company’s recently announced fuel cell stack and system assembly plant in Monroe County, where the components will be assembled into complete fuel cells. From there, the fuel cells will be delivered to a partner truck manufacturer to be assembled into commercial heavy-duty vehicles. The company’s main assembly partner in the United States is Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary Fontaine Modification.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology is finding use cases in heavy-duty vehicles because trucking companies are frequently paid by how much weight they can transport, and how quickly they can do it. The time investment of battery charging and the loss of carrying capacity makes fuel cells an attractive alternative for companies looking to decarbonize their vehicle fleets.

Hyzon sees positive network effects and economies of scale associated with hydrogen fuel cell adoption — and increasing marginal costs of electric battery adoption. Although the company has not announced plans to dive into the light-duty vehicle market, it remains bullish on the value proposition of hydrogen fuel cells.

“We think at some point it becomes an increasing marginal cost of adoption for battery electric, because you run into infrastructure limitations around the electricity grid, around the size of depots and the capacity to build the charging infrastructure,” Knight said. “We believe there’s a dis-economy of scale attached to going battery electric when you’ve got really high utilization. We believe that some of the lighter vehicles will also start to move onto hydrogen. We’re not totally dependent on that for our model, but that’s our belief.”

Hyzon, which expects to be listed on the Nasdaq in late May or early June, will be listed under the ticker HYZN.

The Station: Lucid Motors, Joby Aviation take the SPAC path and Sergey Brin’s airship ambitions

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox

Hi friends and new readers, welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

In last week’s newsletter, I described some of the changes coming to TechCrunch’s transportation coverage, including “market maps.” These articles, which run will always run in Extra Crunch, focus on a particular slice of the transportation industry, along with other mobility-related analysis.

The first of these took a deep dive into the solid state battery industry. As Mark Harris reported: For the last decade, developers of solid state battery systems have promised products that are vastly safer, lighter and more powerful. Those promises largely evaporated into the ether — leaving behind a vapor stream of disappointing products, failed startups and retreating release dates.

A new wave of companies and technologies are finally maturing and attracting the funding necessary to feed batteries’ biggest market: transportation. Keep reading here: Can solid state batteries power up the next generation of EVs?

This week look out for our revamped automotive reviews, an interview with Joby Aviation founder JoeBen Birt, Paul Sciarra, the company’s executive chair and co-founder of Pinterest and Reid Hofffman, whose SPAC merged with Joby as well as a chat with Lucid CEO and CTO Peter Rawlinson. Two new reporters, who will be helping to expand and deepen our transportation coverage, are also starting this coming week.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Micromobbin’ is short and sweet this week. I wanted to flag this upcoming panel.

A free panel called Women on Wheels: Making Micromobility Safer for Female Riders will be held 12 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. ET on March 8. The panel will focus on women and safety. Reservations are required to join. Visit the Eventbrite link here to register.

Speakers include ScootRoute Founder and CEO Meghan Braley, who is hosting the event, SomEV co-founder and battery engineer Natasha George and Saturday Night Bike Club’s director of cyclist engagement, Ashley Ndiaye.

Deal of the week

money the station

After weeks of speculation, Lucid Motors finally announced it would become a publicly traded company through a merger with special-purpose acquisition company Churchill Capital IV Corp.

A string of EV automakers and charging infrastructure companies have taken the SPAC merger path to public markets over the past 10 months, including ArrivalCanoo, ChargePoint, EVgo, Fisker and Lordstown Motors. But this one is by far the largest.

The combined company, in which Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund will continue to be the largest shareholder, will have a transaction equity value of $11.75 billion. Private investment in the public equity deal is priced at $15 a share, putting the implied pro-forma equity value at $24 billion.

I interviewed CEO and CTO Peter Rawlinson after the deal was announced. Watch out for an article based on what he said this coming week.

Meanwhile, another deal worth noting was Joby Aviation’s announcement that it would become a public company through a merger with Reinvent Technology Partners, a special purpose acquisition company from well-known investor and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Zynga founder Mark Pincus. The combined company, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, will have a pro forma implied valuation of $6.6 billion.

Joby Aviation has spent a more than a decade developing an all-electric, vertical take-off and landing passenger aircraft. Joby plans to use the capital to fund the launch of passenger service, which is expected to begin in 2024. The company still must complete certification of its aircraft and develop manufacturing facilities, but it is already on its way to achieving both.

Other deals that got my attention …

Aurora, which recently closed its acquisition of Uber’s self-driving subsidiary, bought its second lidar startup in less than two years. Aurora acquired OURS Technology, a 12-person startup the founded in 2017 by a team of University of California-Berkeley researchers and PhDs. Two years ago, Aurora acquired Blackmore, a Montana-based lidar startup. 

Gettacar, an online used-vehicle startup, raised $25 million in new funding. The company has raised  $48 million over three funding rounds in more than two years.

Gophr, a U.K.-based last-mile delivery startup, raised £4 million ($5.5 million) in a funding round led by pan-European B2B investor Nauta Capital.

Manbang, the Chinese truck-hailing company backed by Tencent Holdings Ltd., confidentially filed for an initial public offering that could raise at least $1 billion, Bloomberg reported.

Nyobolt, the Cambridge, UK-based battery company previously known as CB2Tech, raised $10 million in Series A funding round led IQ Capital.

WiTricity, the EV wireless charging company, announced an additional $18 million to its previously announced fund raise of $34 million. The extension included investments from Tony Fadell’s Future Shape and other private investors. Fadell is also joining the board.

Xos, the commercial electric vehicle manufacturer, plans to go public through a merger with a blank-check company, NextGen Acquisition Corp., in a deal valued at $2 billion.

Zomato, the Indian food delivery startup, has raised $250 million, just two months after closing a $660 million Series J financing round.

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

Back in October, the city of New York released its request for interest in its electric scooter pilot, officially kicking off what promised to be a competitive battle among companies vying for a chance to operate their businesses in there.

The city also released a request for expressions of interest, or “RFEI,” for companies that provide ancillary services to the electric scooter industry, such as data aggregation and analysis, on-street charging and parking vendors, safe-riding training courses as well as scooter collection and impound services.

New York is one of two large markets — London being the other — that has yet name the companies that will receive these highly coveted permits. My sources are telling me that New York will announce this week which companies landed permits for the pilot. It’s possible London will make a similar announcement.

Last week, the New York City Department of Transportation announced the geographic boundaries for the e-scooter pilot will be in eastern Bronx neighborhoods from Eastchester and Co-op City to Throggs Neck and Soundview, an 18-square-mile area home to 570,000 residents. The pilot is expected to launch in the late spring, will run for a minimum of one year. The pilot is estimated to bring as many as 2,000 to 3,000 scooters to the East Bronx during Phase 1 with an increase to as many as 4,000 to 6,000 in a potential second phase in 2022.

A quick history lesson

the station autonomous vehicles1

Remember the ID Buzz, the reimagined microbus that Volkswagen first showed off as a prototype at the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit? The vehicle has been in development since then and on Friday, we received another update on its future.

Volkswagen said it is aiming to have a Level 4 autonomous ID.Buzz in service for commercial use by 2025. Argo AI, the self-driving startup backed by Ford and Volkswagen, is providing the autonomous driving technology that will allow these microbuses to navigate urban environments without a human behind the wheel.

The company is conducting field trials in Germany this year.

The idea is to use these microbuses for a ride-hailing and sharing service similar to what Moia offers today in Germany. VW noted that its commercial vehicle division will develop and build Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV), such as robotaxis and vans.

The announcement suggests that progress is being made. However, it’s important to note VW’s previous timelines and intentions.

In 2016, VW Group launched Moia as a separate company focused on providing mobility solutions, including fleet-based commuter shuttles and, eventually, autonomous on-demand transportation.

Ole Harms, who was Moia’s CEO when it launched, was on the TechCrunch stage in London back in 2016. At the time, he said the first pilots of autonomous driving deployments would come earlier than the 2021 date cited by many competitors for the arrival of self-driving tech.

VW Group tapped self-driving startup Aurora and in January 2018 announced plans to launch commercial fleets of self-driving electric vehicles in two to five cities beginning in 2021. Volks­wagen said at the time that it planned to launch two types of test fleets using Aurora tech, including one for ride-pooling that would use Moia shuttles and another for door-to-door ride-hailing service in the U.S. and Germany.

Aurora and VW’s partnership ended 18 months later.

VW’s launch date — along with the timelines from virtually every other AV developer — was pushed back. This time around, will VW aided by Argo, meet its deadline?

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery

A few more items to note this week.

Foxconn Technology Group reached a tentative agreement with electric vehicle startup-turned-SPAC Fisker to develop and eventually manufacture an EV that will be sold in North America, Europe, China and India. The deal isn’t done yet though.

This is just a memorandum of understanding agreement. Discussions between the two companies will continue with the expectation that a formal partnership agreement will be reached during the second quarter of this year.

Speaking of Fisker, The Verge reported that the electric vehicle startup has dropped plans to create a solid-state battery and that last July it quietly settled a previously unreported trade secret lawsuit with Volkswagen-backed solid-state battery company QuantumScape.

Flipkart said it will deploy more than 25,000 electric vehicles in its supply chain by 2030 as the Walmart-owned e-commerce giant looks to achieve a 100% transition to electric mobility in the next 10 years. The Bangalore-headquartered firm said it partnered with leading EV makers including Hero Electric, Mahindra Electric and Piaggio to build vehicles for its first and last-mile delivery fleets across the country.

Amazon said just a day before the Flipkart announcement that it partnered with Mahindra Electric to develop “close to hundred” electric three-wheelers in India. The American e-commerce giant last year pledged to deploy 10,000 electric vehicles in the country by 2025.

Nikola, the controversial electric truck maker, is trying to make fresh start, admitting in a recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing that nine statements made by founder Trevor Milton were “inaccurate.” Milton, you might remember, resigned from Nikola in September, after a report from noted short-seller Hindenburg Research accused the company of fraud.

The company is also narrowing its focus, getting rid of the various side projects that Milton started. The SEC filing showed the company took a $14.4 million impairment expense after discontinuing the Powersports business unit.

Sergey Brin’s secretive airship company LTA Research and Exploration is planning to power a huge disaster relief airship with an equally record-breaking hydrogen fuel cell, according to a job listing spotted by TechCrunch’s Mark Harris.

United States Postal Service awarded a 10-year, $485-million contract to Oshkosh Defense to deliver between 50,000 and 165,000 Next Generation Delivery Vehicles, Ars Technica reported. The first trucks are due on the road in 2023. Only 10% of the new delivery trucks will be battery electric, which seems to conflict with the new Biden Administration’s plans to replace the entire federal fleet with EVs. The news sent shares of Workhorse Group Inc. into a free fall.


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Aurora acquires a second lidar company in push to bring self-driving trucks to the road

Aurora, the autonomous vehicle company that recently closed its acquisition of Uber’s self-driving subsidiary, has snapped up another startup. 

This time, Aurora is buying OURS Technology, the second lidar startup it has acquired in less than two years. Aurora acquired Blackmore, a Montana-based lidar startup in May 2019.  Aurora declined to disclose the acquisition price or other financial terms of the deal. OURS Technology, which was founded in 2017 by a team of University of California-Berkeley researchers and Phds, employs 12 people. The entire team is heading to Aurora, according to the company.

“We are always on the lookout for how we can make progress as quickly as possible and OURS’s expertise in developing lidar chips adds to the expertise we already have and accelerates our work,” an Aurora spokesperson said.

Lidar, or light detection and ranging radar, is considered by most companies developing autonomous driving systems a critical and necessary sensor to safely deploy self-driving vehicles at scale. A future where millions of self-driving vehicles coursing through cities is still years — even decades some argue — away. But that hasn’t prevented dozens of lidar companies from launching, each one aiming to cash in on that eventual demand. 

The vast majority of the 70-odd companies that exist in the industry today are developing and trying to sell time-of-flight lidar sensors, which send out pulses of light outside the visible spectrum and then measures how long it takes for each of those pulses to return. As they come back, the direction of, and distance to, whatever those pulses hit are recorded as a point and eventually forms a 3D map.

Some lidar companies, including Blackmore and OURS Technology, are pursuing Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) lidar, which emits a low-power and continuous wave, or stream, of light. FMCW lidar developers tout two primary benefits of this technology. It can measure distance with a higher dynamic range and instant velocity, meaning it can gauge the speed of the objects coming to or moving away from them. It also doesn’t struggle with interference from sun or other other sensors.

But FMCW is also complex. FMCW starts as a range finder on a chip. To make it a 3D lidar, many FMCW developers use big mirrors and other components to provide the field of view, which pushes up the size of the sensors. OURS Technology claims to be a lidar-on-a-chip company, which suggests that this four-year-old company has developed a way to combine everything into a solid-state scanning mechanism. This would allow the sensor to shrink in size, solving one of FMCW’s primary issues.

Aurora unveiled last summer its so-called FirstLight Lidar, a sensor based on Blackmore’s technology that was developed for its fleet of self-driving vehicles, namely long-haul trucks. Aurora is clearly interested in OURS’ speed of development, noting in its announcement that the startup been able to produce four generations of lidar in just three years and developed a solid-state scanning mechanism compatible with its technology.

The company plans to use the startup’s expertise and development know-how to make its sensor scaleable. In short: Aurora hopes to use OURS’ team and their blueprint for key elements such as the solid-state scanning mechanism and development process to accelerate development.

“Now, as we look to expand our fleet and commercialize our driverless trucks, FirstLight lidar must be increasingly scalable — it needs to be smaller and less expensive, but just as powerful,” the company said.

 

Can solid state batteries power up for the next generation of EVs?

Lithium-ion batteries power almost every new phone, laptop and electric vehicle. But unlike processors or solar panels, which have improved exponentially, lithium-ion batteries have inched along with only incremental gains.

For the last decade, developers of solid state battery systems have promised products that are vastly safer, lighter and more powerful. Those promises largely evaporated into the ether — leaving behind a vapor stream of disappointing products, failed startups and retreating release dates.

For the last decade, developers of solid state battery systems have promised products that are vastly safer, lighter and more powerful.

A new wave of companies and technologies are finally maturing and attracting the funding necessary to feed batteries’ biggest market: transportation. Electric vehicles account for about 60% of all lithium-ion batteries made today, and IDTechEx predicts that solid state batteries will represent a $6 billion industry by 2030.

Electric vehicles have never been cooler, faster or cleaner, yet they still account for only around one in 25 cars sold around the world (and fewer still in the United States). A global survey of 10,000 drivers in 2020 by Castrol delivered the same perennial complaints that EVs are too expensive, too slow to charge and have too short a range.

Castrol identified three tipping points that EVs would need to drive a decisive shift away from their internal combustion rivals: a range of at least 300 miles, charging in just half an hour and costing no more than $36,000.

Theoretically, solid state batteries (SSB) could deliver all three.

There are many different kinds of SSB but they all lack a liquid electrolyte for moving electrons (electricity) between the battery’s positive (cathode) and negative (anode) electrodes. The liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries limit the materials the electrodes can be made from, and the shape and size of the battery. Because liquid electrolytes are usually flammable, lithium-ion batteries are also prone to runaway heating and even explosion. SSBs are much less flammable and can use metal electrodes or complex internal designs to store more energy and move it faster — giving higher power and faster charging.

The players

“If you run the calculations, you can get really amazing numbers and they’re very exciting,” Amy Prieto, founder and CTO of solid state Colorado-based startup Prieto Battery said in a recent interview. “It’s just that making it happen in practice is very difficult.”

Prieto, who founded her company in 2009 after a career as a chemistry professor, has seen SSB startups come and go. In 2015 alone, Dyson acquired Ann Arbor startup Sakti3 and Bosch bought Berkeley Lab spin-off SEEO in separate automotive development projects. Both efforts failed, and Dyson has since abandoned some of Sakti3’s patents.

Prieto Battery, whose strategic investors include Intel, Stout Street Capital and Stanley Ventures, venture arm of toolmaker Stanley Black & Decker, pioneered an SSB with a 3D internal architecture that should enable high power and good energy density. Prieto is now seeking funding to scale up production for automotive battery packs. The first customer for these is likely to be electric pickup maker Hercules, whose debut vehicle, called Alpha, is due in 2022. (Fisker also says that it is developing a 3D SSB for its debut Ocean SUV, which is expected to arrive next year.)

Another Colorado SSB company is Solid Power, which has had investments from auto OEMs including BMV, Hyundai, Samsung and Ford, following a $20 million Series A in 2018. Solid Power has no ambitions to make battery packs or even cells, according to CEO Doug Campbell, and is doing its best to use only standard lithium-ion tooling and processes.

Once the company has completed cell development in 2023 or 2024, it would hand over full-scale production to its commercialization partners.

“It simply lowers the barrier to entry if existing producers can adopt it with minimal pain,” Campbell said.

QuantumScape is perhaps the highest profile SSB maker on the scene today. Spun out from Stanford University a decade ago, the secretive QuantumScape attracted funding from Bill Gates and $300 million from Volkswagen. In November, QuantumScape went public via a special purpose acquisition company at a $3.3 billion valuation. It then soared in value over 10 times after CEO Jagdeep Singh claimed to have solved the short lifetime and slow charging problems that have plagued SSBs.

Apple supplier Foxconn reaches tentative agreement to build Fisker’s next electric car

Apple supplier Foxconn Technology Group has reached a tentative agreement with electric vehicle startup-turned-SPAC Fisker to develop and eventually manufacture an EV that will be sold in North America, Europe, China and India.

Fisker and Foxconn said Wednesday that a memorandum of understanding agreement has been signed. Discussions between the two companies will continue with the expectation that a formal partnership agreement will be reached during the second quarter of this year. 

Under the agreement, Foxconn will begin production in the fourth quarter of 2023 with a projected annual volume of more than 250,000 vehicles. The electric vehicle will carry the Fisker brand.

Foxconn Technology Group Chairman Young-way Liu touted the company’s vertically integrated global supply chain and accumulated engineering capabilities, noting that it gives the company two major advantages in the development and manufacturing of the key elements of an EV, which includes the electric motor, electric control module and battery.

That supply chain and ability to scale engineering quickly will be critical for Foxconn if it hopes to meet its production target.

“The collaboration between our firms means that it will only take 24 months to produce the next Fisker vehicle — from research and development to production, reducing half of the traditional time required to bring a new vehicle to market,” Young-way Liu said in a statement.

Fisker said production of the Ocean SUV — its first EV and one that is supposed to be built by contract manufacturer Magna — will begin in the fourth quarter of 2022. The company said it plans to unveil a production-intent prototype of the Ocean later this year.

This is not Foxconn’s first foray into electric vehicle manufacturing.

Foxconn announced in January 2020 that it had formed a joint venture with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to build electric vehicles in China. Under that agreement, each party will own 50% of the venture to develop and manufacture electric vehicles and engage in an IOV, what Foxconn parent company Hon Hai calls the “internet of vehicles” business.

Last month, Foxconn and Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group agreed to form a joint venture focused on contract manufacturing for automakers, with a specific focus on electrification, connectivity and autonomous driving technology as well as vehicles designed for sharing.

The joint venture between Foxconn and Geely will provide consulting services on whole vehicles, parts, intelligent drive systems and other automotive ecosystem platforms to automakers as well as ridesharing companies. Geely said it will bring its experience in the automotive fields of design, engineering, R&D, intelligent manufacturing, supply chain management and quality control while Foxconn will bring its manufacturing and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) know-how.

 

Apple supplier Foxconn reaches tentative agreement to build Fisker’s next electric car

Apple supplier Foxconn Technology Group has reached a tentative agreement with electric vehicle startup-turned-SPAC Fisker to develop and eventually manufacture an EV that will be sold in North America, Europe, China and India.

Fisker and Foxconn said Wednesday that a memorandum of understanding agreement has been signed. Discussions between the two companies will continue with the expectation that a formal partnership agreement will be reached during the second quarter of this year. 

Under the agreement, Foxconn will begin production in the fourth quarter of 2023 with a projected annual volume of more than 250,000 vehicles. The electric vehicle will carry the Fisker brand.

Foxconn Technology Group Chairman Young-way Liu touted the company’s vertically integrated global supply chain and accumulated engineering capabilities, noting that it gives the company two major advantages in the development and manufacturing of the key elements of an EV, which includes the electric motor, electric control module and battery.

That supply chain and ability to scale engineering quickly will be critical for Foxconn if it hopes to meet its production target.

“The collaboration between our firms means that it will only take 24 months to produce the next Fisker vehicle — from research and development to production, reducing half of the traditional time required to bring a new vehicle to market,” Young-way Liu said in a statement.

Fisker said production of the Ocean SUV — its first EV and one that is supposed to be built by contract manufacturer Magna — will begin in the fourth quarter of 2022. The company said it plans to unveil a production-intent prototype of the Ocean later this year.

This is not Foxconn’s first foray into electric vehicle manufacturing.

Foxconn announced in January 2020 that it had formed a joint venture with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to build electric vehicles in China. Under that agreement, each party will own 50% of the venture to develop and manufacture electric vehicles and engage in an IOV, what Foxconn parent company Hon Hai calls the “internet of vehicles” business.

Last month, Foxconn and Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group agreed to form a joint venture focused on contract manufacturing for automakers, with a specific focus on electrification, connectivity and autonomous driving technology as well as vehicles designed for sharing.

The joint venture between Foxconn and Geely will provide consulting services on whole vehicles, parts, intelligent drive systems and other automotive ecosystem platforms to automakers as well as ridesharing companies. Geely said it will bring its experience in the automotive fields of design, engineering, R&D, intelligent manufacturing, supply chain management and quality control while Foxconn will bring its manufacturing and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) know-how.

 

Symbio is working with Toyota and Nissan to increase robotic assembly efficiency

Bay Area-based AI startup Symbio today announced its “official launch.” Backed by a total of $30 million in funding, the company has struck deals with both Nissan and Toyota to implement its software in U.S.-based factories.

The company says its SymbioDCS technology is capable of dramatically increasing automation with factory robots on the assembly line.

“To the end customer, the proposition is pretty straightforward,” CEO and co-founder Max Reynolds tells TechCrunch. “We’re improving the efficiency of their automation. The high-level goal is to increase the capacity of the factory and enable them to build more product, more quickly, more flexibly. “

The company closed a $15 million Series B in December of last year. That adds to a $12 million Series A in 2018, $2.5 million seed two years prior and a $500,000 pre-seed. This latest round was led by ACME Capital, joining existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Eclipse Ventures and The House Fund.

Image Credits: Symbio

“Instead of exclusively providing automation solutions, Symbio is also designing the tools that enable the developers and domain experts working in manufacturing to create their own automation solutions and easily adapt them to new tasks,” UC Berkeley professor Anca Dragan said in a statement tied to the news. “To do this, they are building products that leverage AI strengths and human insight in a symbiotic way.”

Founded in 2014, the company employs around 40, mostly engineers, largely based in California. Reynolds explains that the current level of automated manufacturing in automotive is actually far lower than one might expect. “Assembly is less than 5% automated, across the board,” he says. “Even in this core vertical, there’s a ton of headroom and opportunity for growth.”

Lucid Motors strikes SPAC deal to go public with $24 billion valuation

Lucid Motors reached an agreement to become a publicly traded company through a merger with special-purpose acquisition company Churchill Capital IV Corp, in the largest deal yet between a blank-check company and electric vehicle startup. 

The combined company, in which Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund will continue to be the largest shareholder, will have a transaction equity value of $11.75 billion. Private investment in the public equity deal is priced at $15 a share, putting the implied the pro-forma equity value at $24 billion. The announcement comes more than a week after Bloomberg, citing unnamed sources, reported a deal was close to being finalized.

Lucid follows a string of other, albeit smaller valued, SPAC mergers with electric vehicle startups that have been announced this year, including Arrival, Canoo, Fisker and Lordstown Motors. Several EV infrastructure companies including EVgo and ChargePoint have also become public companies via SPAC mergers.

Lucid might have been the most anticipated. The hype and speculation that has been rampant for weeks drove up the stock price of Churchill Capital IV Corp from its opening price of $10 a share more than 470% since January 2021. The skyrocketing share price, plummeted more than 30% after the details of the deal were announced.

The private investment and cash from Churchill will provide roughly $4.4 billion in total funding to Lucid. That capital will be put to work to speed up and expand Lucid’s plans. The company plans to begin production and deliveries of the Lucid Air in North America in the second half of this year. The Air will come to Europe in 2022, followed by China in 2023. The Gravity performance luxury SUV is expected to come to market in North America in 2023. The vehicles will be produced at its new factory in Casa Grande, Arizona. 

The funding will be used to bring those two vehicles to market as well as to expand its factory in Arizona, Lucid CEO and CTO Peter Rawlinson said Monday. The company plans to expand the factory over another three phases in the coming years to have the capacity to produce 365,000 units per year at scale. The initial phase of the $700 million factory was completed late last year and will have the capacity to produce 30,000 vehicles a year.

Lucid Motors air EV

Image Credits: Lucid Motors

The deal will also help Lucid realize its vision to supply electric vehicle technologies to third parties such as other automotive manufacturers as well as offer energy storage solutions in the residential, commercial and utility segments, Rawlinson said.

Scaling an electric vehicle company is not cheap or easy. Lucid narrowly missed imploding several years ago as it struggled to find an investor that would provide the capital it needed to bring its ultra-luxe electric Air sedan into production. That investor ended up being Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which agreed in September 2018 to invest $1 billion into Lucid Motors.

Lucid began in 2007 as Atieva, a company founded by former Tesla VP and board member Bernard Tse and entrepreneur Sam Weng that focused on developing electric car battery technology. The early research, development and eventual progress in the components and overall electric architecture would lay the critical ground work for the future Lucid, which emerged at the end of 2016 with new publicly stated purpose to make electric vehicles (although the company had already been working quietly at this for a couple of years). Rawlinson, who left Tesla to join Lucid in 2013 as CTO, was one of the driving forces behind this new mission. He later took on the CEO title and responsibility as well.

While Lucid is often couched as a competitor to Tesla, Rawlinson has told TechCrunch the Air is meant to be a rival of the Mercedes S Class, the internal combustion engine flagship of the German automaker. The investor presentation released Monday echoes Rawlinson’s earlier comments, noting that “Tesla is innovative but not luxury.” Lucid describes itself as “post luxury” and in competition with “established luxury” brands Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Lucid is taking a page out of Tesla’s playbook and outlined plans to eventually offer more affordable EVs once it scales production.

Rawlinson will remain as CEO and CTO. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter.

The Station: The lidar SPAC craze and 10 investors give their mobility predictions

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Hi friends and new readers, welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

Before you get to reading The Station, a small update for you. As transportation editor — a new title I gained last month — I am focused on building a team and deepening our coverage. My first task was to bring on Mark Harris, who will be writing investigative pieces as well as articles for our subscription product Extra Crunch.

His first EC piece, which will publish this coming week, is a deep dive into solid-state batteries. This isn’t some one-off. Each month, EC will publish two “market map” articles, which focus on a particular slice of the transportation industry, along with other mobility-related analysis. I’m also bringing on more reporters to beef up coverage over at TechCrunch. A few of these folks have an expertise in automotive tech and are helping me revamp the traditional car review into something more TechCrunch-y.

Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

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Remember last week when I wondered out loud if a new diversification trend was afoot in the micromobility sector? A growing number of companies are either adding new products to their portfolios or technological upgrades. For instance, Lime has added mopeds to its portfolio and Spin is testing out new three-wheeled scooters that can be remotely operated, via software and people power from Tortoise.

Revel has taken this diversification to a new level. The shared electric moped startup said it will start offering monthly electric bike subscriptions in New York, making this is the second new business venture the company has announced in the past several weeks.

Until the end of January, Revel was just a shared electric moped startup. Then it added a DC fast-charging station for electric vehicles in New York City. This new “Superhub” will contain 30 chargers and be open to the public 24 hours a day. Revel said it will open other Superhubs across New York City.

A week or so later it announced it was expanding into monthly subscriptions for electric bikes. The pedal-assist bikes, which are manufactured by WING Bikes, come equipped with a 36-volt battery that can travel 45 miles on a single charge and can reach speeds of 20 miles per hour.

It doesn’t seem — based on comments I received from Revel CEO and co-founder Frank Reig — that the company is done adding business ventures or products. “Safe to say that this will not be our last big announcement in 2021,” Reig told me.

Stay tuned. 

Deal of the week

money the station

A few years ago, I thought that lidar — the light detection and ranging radar that measures distance using laser light to generate a highly accurate 3D map of the world — had reached its peak. More than 70 lidar startups existed at that time and the timelines around the deployment of autonomous vehicles, which would theoretically unleash massive demand for the sensors, was slipping.

Consolidation seemed inevitable. Then came the wave of pivots, when lidar companies employed various strategies. Some started to market their sensors to other industries and others touted the perception software that accompanied the lidar. Many targeted automakers with the pitch that their sensors could make the advanced driver assistance systems more robust, reliable and safe.

A new trend is afoot in lidar land. Merging with SPACs, or special purpose acquisition companies, have become a go-to path for companies wanting to access the level of capital that the public market can provide. Lidar companies have joined the party in recent months with Aeye becoming the latest guest to arrive.

Aeye announced it was going public through a merger with CF Finance Acquisition Corp. III that will value the company at $2 billion. Under this deal, AEye said it was able to raise $225 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, from institutional and strategic investors that include GM Ventures, Subaru-SBI, Intel Capital, Hella Ventures and Taiwania Capital. Other undisclosed investors also participated. Through the transaction, AEye will have about $455 million in cash on its balance sheet, proceeds that include $230 million in trust from CF Finance Acquisition Corp. III, a SPAC sponsored by Cantor Fitzgerald.

Aeye is the sixth lidar company to announce a SPAC since last summer. Velodyne Lidar kicked off the trend when it announced that it planned to go public through a merger with special purpose acquisition company Graf Industrial Corp., with a market value of $1.8 billion. Others soon followed, including Luminar, Aeva, Ouster and Innoviz.

Which lidar company will be next?

Other deals that caught my eye this week …

Dingdong Maicai, the Chinese grocery app backed by Sequoia Capital China, is considering an initial public offering in the U.S. as soon as this year, Bloomberg reported.

Li-Cycle Corp, a lithium-ion battery recycler, is close to reaching an agreement to go public through a merger with Peridot Acquisition Corp., Reuters reported. The combined company would have a valuation of about $1.7 billion.

Metropolis, a new parking payment and management startup based in Los Angeles, has raised $41 million in financing from investors, including real estate managers Starwood and RXR Realty, Dick Costolo and Adam Bain’s 01 Advisors, Dragoneer, former Facebook employees Sam Lessin and Kevin Colleran’s Slow Ventures, Dan Doctoroff, the head of Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs initiative; and NBA All Star and early-stage investor, Baron Davis. Global growth equity firm 3L led the round.

Fun fact: founder Alex Israel sold his last company, ParkMe, to Inrix back in 2015.

Recogni Inc., a startup that is developing an AI-powered vision recognition module for autonomous vehicles, raised $48.9 million in Series B funding round. Investors included BMW i Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, and existing investors, along with Robert Bosch Venture Capital and Continental.

Super73, the direct-to-consumer electric bike startup, raised $20 million Volition Capital. The Southern California-based company plans to use the capital to hire more staff, improve customer service operation and expand its product portfolio, The Verge reported.

Volkswagen is weighing the possibility of spinning out its Porsche unit, Bloomberg reported. The company is reportedly meeting with advisers to evaluate a potential initial public offering or spinoff of the sports car brand.

Volta Energy Technologies, the energy investment and advisory services firm, closed on nearly $90 million of a targeted $150 million investment fund, according to people familiar with the group’s plans. The venture investment vehicle complements a $180 million existing commitment from Volta’s four corporate backers, Equinor, Albermarle, Epsilon and Hanon Systems.

Investor survey 2021

Once a year, I like to reach out to investors and ask them a bunch of questions in an effort to understand where they’re putting their capital, identify emerging trends and get a general sense of where the industry, and its many sub sectors, are heading.

I surveyed 10 investors this time around and published the results in our subscription product Extra Crunch, where there will be a lot more transportation analysis in 2021. I encourage you to subscribe. In the meantime, here’s taste of what a handful (not all 10) had to say when I asked this:

What are the overlooked areas that you want to invest in, now that legacy automakers are shifting their portfolios to electric and new EV manufacturers are preparing to start production?

Clara Brenner, Urban Innovation Fund co-founder/managing partner : We are very interested in the emerging fleet management space — and this is reflected in a number of our recent investments, including Electriphi (software to help fleets transition to electric) and Kyte (activating underutilized fleets to deliver a magical car rental experience). There are so many efficiencies that come from the fleet model for transportation — we think this will be an increasingly important area in the coming years.

Dave Clark, partner at Expa: Don’t give the incumbents too much credit. As technology becomes commoditized we’ll see new competitors push their way into the market, especially around new designs more suitable to an autonomous and shared system.

A few specific examples for your readers: EVs are approaching price parity with gas-powered cars with the improvements to carbon-neutral/negative-emission tech, energy storage, microgrids and battery tech. We’re about to see drone infrastructure and service business models scale as we approach an inflection point in consumer adoption and industry regulation.

Finally, as autonomous vehicle tech approaches commoditization, there will be plenty of opportunities in the software layers that optimize routes and orchestrate resources across supply chains.

Abhijit Ganguly, senior manager at Goodyear Ventures: The secular trend toward electrification presents opportunities to OEMs, Tier 1 vendors and aftermarket participants alike. We continue to see opportunities in EV fleet management, aftermarket solutions for improving uptime, and reducing cost of operations and supportive infrastructure development (software and hardware) for easy deployment. Envoy, a Goodyear Ventures portfolio company, is capitalizing on these opportunities through its shared mobility EV platform.

Rachel Holt, co-founder/general partner at Construct Capital: We invested in a really interesting company building the software operating layer to help EV hardware manufacturers “connect;” the software layer of EV is going to be a very interesting space.

Sasha Ostojic, Playground Global operating partner: There seems to be an overlooked opportunity with consumer automotive apps. We have apps to manage our homes (cameras, speakers, sensors, etc.) so it’s only natural that our cars should join that ecosystem. At first it will be OEM-specific apps (like the Tesla app or the terrible GM app), but I expect an evolution of open APIs where you can add any car to your “garage” (like adding a device to Google Home).

Sebastian Peck, InMotion Ventures’s managing director: I think the market may not have fully appreciated the vast potential of connected vehicle data yet, in part because that data is currently still hard to access for developers. We see more OEMs making APIs available in 2021 and we expect this will become a very dynamic space with a lot of innovation benefitting consumers and commercial fleet managers.

Commission on Future Mobility Q&A

The Commission on the Future of Mobility is a new global coalition of business, industry, technology and policy leaders with a gigantic mission. The organization recently announced a slew of appointments to its board, notably Mary Nichols, the former chair of the California Air Resources Board and Jim Farley, president and CEO of Ford Motor Co. Other commissioners include, Ola Cabs Chairman Bhavish Aggarwal, Valeo Chairman and CEO Jacques Aschenbroich and Avinash Rugoobur, who is president of Arrival.

I thought it was time to learn more and so I reached out and had a chat with Alisyn Malek, the organization’s executive director and the former COO and co-founder of May Mobility.

Here’s an edited version of our conversation.

ME: It says here that the ultimate objective of the commission is to recommend a framework for regulations in the American, European, and Asian markets that reflects and facilitates the technological transformation taking place. That’s a lot.

MALEK: It’s a big goal. (laughs)

ME: Why take a global approach to this?

MALEK: We think it’s really important to take a global approach because that allows you to be open to more options of what solutions could look like. If we were only looking at a specific region — yes, it’s a little bit easier in terms of what you need to focus on and the problems that you need to solve — but we also worried that it would limit us. By taking this global approach, we think it really creates the opportunity to take the best of what everybody is trying to do and put those out as options for people to really understand what the future could look like.

ME: Will this framework acknowledge that each region has its own demographics and nuances and cultural behaviors and infrastructure?

MALEK: We realize that there’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution, so our hope is to be able to put together a compelling vision and create options that different policymakers can select from and better understand the trade offs between them.

ME: The CFM emphasizes that its results are going to be based on data methodologies. Can you explain exactly the type of hard data that’s going to be used.

MALEK: We recognize that a lot of work has been done in these spaces before, so we will be looking at the current literature and working to add some new information and insight. We do think that there are areas where data needs to be collected.

For example, the changes in freight and the rise of e-commerce through the pandemic. That may be an area where we go in and try to understand a new data set. I don’t know that we would be outfitting vehicles to take that type of data — we’ll be looking for for existing data to feed our studies. That’s an area that is just so new that there really isn’t going to be a lot out there, so I think that’s a place where we may be substantially additive in the data perspective.

ME: Why does the transportation world need another commission?

MALEK: When we think about all of the commissions in mobility that exist today — and there are many — they are either focused on the advocacy of a specific topic or are interested in doing the research and adding to the knowledge base, but not necessarily carrying that through to advocacy to help drive change.

A big part of how the Commission on the Future of Mobility is different is the fact that is bringing together industry leaders across the movement of people and goods so we can hash out the hard questions internally as we work on our proposals and then bring those to an advocacy stage and help drive that change.

One AI thing

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Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Finally, I have to share my article about Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer who avoided an 18-month prison sentence after receiving a presidential pardon last month.

I learned (and reported) that Levandowski has officially closed the church he created to understand and accept a godhead based on artificial intelligence. The church, called Way of the Future, sparked interest and controversy — much like Levandowski himself — from the moment it became public in a November 2017 article in Wired.

But as I noted in my article, it wasn’t just the formation of the church or its purpose that caused a stir in Silicon Valley and the broader tech industry. The church’s public reveal occurred as Levandowski was steeped in a legal dispute with his former employer Google. He had also become the central figure of a trade secrets lawsuit between Waymo, the former Google self-driving project that is now a business under Alphabet, and Uber.

Levandowski dissolved the church at the end of the year. However, the process had started months before in June 2020, documents filed with the state of California show. The entirety of the church’s funds — exactly $175,172 — were donated to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

I did talk to Levandowski and while he didn’t get too deep into “why” he closed WOTF, he did say that he still believes in its premise. He believes that artificial intelligence will fundamentally change how people live and work and that it can be positive for society. He noted that is not guaranteed. Even without Way of the Future, Levandowski said he’s focused on making that happen.