Unagi, the iPhone of scooters, now has a subscription service

Unagi, the portable and design-forward electric scooter company that made a splash with celebs and pop stars, has launched a subscription service.

The service, called Unagi All-Access, will be offered in New York City and Los Angeles. The company said it plans to expand to additional markets as it gathers customer feedback and refines the service.

Customers will be able to choose from two plans. There will be pay-as-you-go monthly plan that costs $39 per month and a discounted annual plan for $34 a month. Unagi does charge a $50 initial setup fee, which means that first month will cost customers $89. The flat monthly fee includes maintenance and insurance for scooter theft or damage.

unagi model one scooter

Image Credits:

Once a customer subscribes, an assembled Model One scooter is shipped to their home within 24 hours, Unagi promises. The Model One costs $990 for customers who want to buy the scooter outright.

Once a customer cancels their subscription, Unagi reclaims the scooter, which is then put through a 80-point inspection. Unagi tells TechCrunch that it’s the same inspection that the scooters go through at the factory. There’s no written guarantee that subscribers will get a new scooter. However, Unagi said customers will likely get new scooters because the company has been ramping up production since the beginning of the pandemic to meet demand.

It is a risk for Unagi, but one the company is betting will pay off amid — and after — the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This model is well-suited to today’s world: as cities re-open, people are rethinking how they get to the supermarket, the post office and the park,” according to the company’s recent blog post announcing the service. “Data shows COVID-wary consumers are afraid of shared transportation, whether it’s the subway, an Uber or a shared scooter. They’re looking for safer alternatives.”

The company was already researching a subscription service before COVID-19 spread throughout the world, according to CEO David Hyman.

Unagi tested the idea last fall. A deeper study was launched in spring in partnership with UC Berkeley’s Haas Business School that determined demand was higher than expected.

“COVID just reinforced our desire to get it live and was the impetus for going live in both LA and NYC at the same time,” Hyman told TechCrunch in an email.

Unagi isn’t alone in this scooter subscription pivot, or what we like to call hardware-as-a-service. Others are also pursuing this business model, including Dance and Voi.

Jump bikes are now on the Lime app and heading to more cities

Three months ago, Jump’s bright red bikes and scooters had disappeared from city streets after Uber unloaded the micromobility company to Lime as part of a complex $170 million fundraising round. When the Jump bikes were finally spotted it was in a recycling yard, where more than 20,000 of them laid in piles, awaiting their demise.

The Jump brand wasn’t erased completely. New, unused Lime bikes were tucked away in storage. Lime has started to add those Jump bikes to cities like Denver, London, Paris, Seattle and Washington D.C. But they were only available through the Uber app. Now, the Jump bikes will show up on the Lime app — as red, not green bike icons. This is the first time since Lime acquired Jump’s assets that the bikes have been integrated into its app.

Lime app Jump bikes

Image Credits: Lime

Lime said Wednesday that Jump  bikes will now be available exclusively through the Lime app for the next few weeks. Once it has integrated Jump’s software, the bikes will be available through both the Uber and Lime apps.

Lime plans to add Jump bikes to more cities, starting with Rochester, Minnesota. More will follow in the coming weeks.

The addition of Jump bikes to Lime’s app has cleared up some speculation of what would happen to the brand post acquisition. But it hasn’t answered every question.

Jump engineers had been working on and ready to scale its newest version of Jump bikes, called the 5.8, when the acquisition occurred and they all lost their jobs. Numerous former Jump employees who have spoken to TechCrunch said the new tech-forward 5.8 versions were weeks away from heading to cities. However, they have yet to appear on city streets.

ChargePoint raises $127M as electric vehicle adoption grows among fleet operators

Electric vehicle charging network ChargePoint raised $127 million in funding in a bid to expand its platform for businesses and fleets in North America and Europe.

A mix of existing investors from the oil and gas, utilities and venture industries added to the round, including American Electric Power, Chevron Technology Ventures, Clearvision and Quantum Energy Partners.

This latest addition, which was an extension of its Series H round, pushes ChargePoint’s total funding to $660 million. The company didn’t provide a valuation.

An increasing number of businesses and municipalities are turning to electric vehicles as governments enact stricter emissions regulations. Meanwhile, an increasing number of new electric passenger cars, SUVs and soon pickup trucks are coming to market. In the next 18 months, GM, Ford, Nissan, Volvo along with startups Polestar and Rivian will have electric vehicles in production. Then there’s Tesla, which has continued to scale its existing portfolio while preparing to add new vehicles, including its Cybertruck.

The upshot: ChargePoint is aiming to keep up with the pace of electric vehicle adoption. But it’s not all about expanding the network for privately owned passenger vehicles.

ChargePoint designs, develops and manufactures hardware, and accompanying software as well as a cloud subscription platform, for electric vehicles. The company might be best known for its branded public and semi-public charging spots that consumers use to charge their personal electric cars and SUVs as well as its home chargers. However, ChargePoint also has a commercial-focused business that provides hardware and software to help fleet operators manage their delivery vans, buses and cars. In all, the company has more than 114,000 charging spots globally. 

ChargePoint President and CEO Pasquale Romano said the shift towards electrification is intensifying for mainstream businesses and fleet operators. The new capital will help the company’s expansion plans keep on pace with the market, he added. Specifically, the funds will be used to commercial and fleet portfolio in North America and Europe and continue to scale policy, marketing and sales efforts.

Autonomous vehicle reporting data is driving AV innovation right off the road

At the end of every calendar year, the complaints from autonomous vehicle companies start piling up. This annual tradition is the result of a requirement by the California Department of Motor Vehicles that AV companies deliver “disengagement reports” by January 1 of each year showing the number of times an AV operator had to disengage the vehicle’s autonomous driving function while testing the vehicle.

However, all disengagement reports have one thing in common: their usefulness is ubiquitously criticized by those who have to submit them. The CEO and founder of a San Francisco-based self-driving car company publicly stated that disengagement reporting is “woefully inadequate … to give a meaningful signal about whether an AV is ready for commercial deployment.” The CEO of a self-driving technology startup called the metrics “misguided.” Waymo stated in a tweet that the metric “does not provide relevant insights” into its self-driving technology or “distinguish its performance from others in the self-driving space.”

Why do AV companies object so strongly to California’s disengagement reports? They argue the metric is misleading based on lack of context due to the AV companies’ varied testing strategies. I would argue that a lack of guidance regarding the language used to describe the disengagements also makes the data misleading. Furthermore, the metric incentivizes testing in less difficult circumstances and favors real-world testing over more insightful virtual testing.

Understanding California reporting metrics

To test an autonomous vehicle on public roads in California, an AV company must obtain an AV Testing Permit. As of June 22, 2020, there were 66 Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permit holders in California and 36 of those companies reported autonomous vehicle testing in California in 2019. Only five of those companies have permits to transport passengers.

To operate on California public roads, each permitted company must report any collision that results in property damage, bodily injury, or death within 10 days of the incident.

There have been 24 autonomous vehicle collision reports in 2020 thus far. However, though the majority of those incidents occurred in autonomous mode, accidents were almost exclusively the result of the autonomous vehicle being rear-ended. In California, rear-end collisions are almost always deemed the fault of the rear-ending driver.

The usefulness of collision data is evident — consumers and regulators are most concerned with the safety of autonomous vehicles for pedestrians and passengers. If an AV company reports even one accident resulting in substantial damage to the vehicle or harm to a pedestrian or passenger while the vehicle operates in autonomous mode, the implications and repercussions for the company (and potentially the entire AV industry) are substantial.

However, the usefulness of disengagement reporting data is much more questionable. The California DMV requires AV operators to report the number and details of disengagements while testing on California public roads by January 1 of each year. The DMV defines this as “how often their vehicles disengaged from autonomous mode during tests (whether because of technical failure or situations requiring the test driver/operator to take manual control of the vehicle to operate safely).”

Operators must also track how often their vehicles disengaged from autonomous mode, and whether that disengagement was the result of software malfunction, human error, or at the option of the vehicle operator.

AV companies have kept a tight lid on measurable metrics, often only sharing limited footage of demonstrations performed under controlled settings and very little data, if any. Some companies have shared the occasional “annual safety report,” which reads more like a promotional deck than a source of data on AV performance. Furthermore, there are almost no reporting requirements for companies doing public testing in any other state. California’s disengagement reports are the exception.

This AV information desert means that disengagement reporting in California has often been treated as our only source of information on AVs. The public is forced to judge AV readiness and relative performance based on this disengagement data, which is incomplete at best and misleading at worst.

Disengagement reporting data offers no context

Most AV companies claim that disengagement reporting data is a poor metric for judging advancement in the AV industry due to a lack of context for the numbers: knowing where those miles were driven and the purpose of those trips is essential to understanding the data in disengagement reports.

Some in the AV industry have complained that miles driven in sparsely populated areas with arid climates and few intersections are miles dissimilar from miles driven in a city like San Francisco, Pittsburgh, or Atlanta. As a result, the number of disengagements reported by companies that test in the former versus the latter geography are incomparable.

It’s also important to understand that disengagement reporting requirements influence AV companies’ decisions on where and how to test. A test that requires substantial disengagements, even while safe, would be discouraged, as it would make the company look less ready for commercial deployment than its competitors. In reality, such testing may result in the most commercially ready vehicle. Indeed, some in the AV industry have accused competitors of manipulating disengagement reporting metrics by easing the difficulty of miles driven over time to look like real progress.

Furthermore, while data can look particularly good when manipulated by easy drives and clear roads, data can look particularly bad when it’s being used strategically to improve AV software.

Let’s consider an example provided by Jack Stewart, a reporter for NPR’s Marketplace covering transportation:

“Say a company rolls out a brand-new build of their software, and they’re testing that in California because it’s near their headquarters. That software could be extra buggy at the beginning, and you could see a bunch of disengagements, but that same company could be running a commercial service somewhere like Arizona, where they don’t have to collect these reports.

That service could be running super smoothly. You don’t really get a picture of a company’s overall performance just by looking at this one really tight little metric. It was a nice idea of California some years ago to start collecting some information, but it’s not really doing what it was originally intended to do nowadays.”

Disengagement reports lack prescriptive language

The disengagement reports are also misleading due to a lack of guidance and uniformity in the language used to describe the disengagements. For example, while AV companies used a variety of language, “perception discrepancies” was the most common term used to describe the reason for a disengagement — however, it’s not clear that the term “perception discrepancies” has a set meaning.

Several operators used the phrase “perception discrepancy” to describe a failure to detect an object correctly. Valeo North America described a similar error as “false detection of object.” Toyota Research Institute almost exclusively described their disengagements vaguely as “Safety Driver proactive disengagement,” the meaning of which is “any kind of disengagement.” Whereas, Pony.ai described each instance of disengagement with particularity.

Many other operators reported disengagements that were “planned testing disengagements” or that were described with such insufficient particularity as to be virtually meaningless.

For example, “planned disengagements” could mean the testing of intentionally created malfunctions, or it could simply mean the software is so nascent and unsophisticated that the company expected the disengagement. Similarly, “perception discrepancy” could mean anything from precautionary disengagements to disengagements due to extremely hazardous software malfunctions. “Perception discrepancy,” “planned disengagement” or any number of other vague descriptions of disengagements make comparisons across AV operators virtually impossible.

So, for example, while it appears that a San Francisco-based AV company’s disengagements were exclusively precautionary, the lack of guidance on how to describe disengagements and the many vague descriptions provided by AV companies have cast a shadow over disengagement descriptions, calling them all into question.

Regulations discourage virtual testing

Today, the software of AV companies is the real product. The hardware and physical components — lidar, sensors, etc. — of AV vehicles have become so uniform, they’re practically off-the-shelf. The real component that is being tested is software. It’s well known that software bugs are best found by running the software as often as possible; road testing simply can’t reach the sheer numbers necessary to find all the bugs. What can reach those numbers is virtual testing.

However, the regulations discourage virtual testing as the lower reported road miles would seem to imply that a company is not road-ready.

Jack Stewart of NPR’s Marketplace expressed a similar point of view:

“There are things that can be relatively bought off the shelf and, more so these days, there are just a few companies that you can go to and pick up the hardware that you need. It’s the software, and it’s how many miles that software has driven both in simulation and on the real roads without any incident.”

So, where can we find the real data we need to compare AV companies? One company runs over 30,000 instances daily through its end-to-end, three-dimensional simulation environment. Another company runs millions of off-road tests a day through its internal simulation tool, running driving models that include scenarios that it can’t test on roads involving pedestrians, lane merging, and parked cars. Waymo drives 20 million miles a day in its Carcraft simulation platform — the equivalent of over 100 years of real-world driving on public roads.

One CEO estimated that a single virtual mile can be just as insightful as 1,000 miles collected on the open road.

Jonathan Karmel, Waymo’s product lead for simulation and automation, similarly explained that Carcraft provides “the most interesting miles and useful information.”

Where we go from here

Clearly there are issues with disengagement reports — both in relying on the data therein and in the negative incentives they create for AV companies. However, there are voluntary steps that the AV industry can take to combat some of these issues:

  1. Prioritize and invest in virtual testing. Developing and operating a robust system of virtual testing may present a high expense to AV companies, but it also presents the opportunity to dramatically shorten the pathway to commercial deployment through the ability to test more complex, higher risk, and higher number scenarios.
  2. Share data from virtual testing. Voluntary disclosure of virtual testing data will reduce reliance on disengagement reports by the public. Commercial readiness will be pointless unless AV companies have provided the public with reliable data on AV readiness for a sustained period.
  3. Seek the greatest value from on-road miles. AV companies should continue using on-road testing in California, but they should use those miles to fill in the gaps from virtual testing. They should seek the greatest value possible out of those slower miles, accept the higher percentage of disengagements they will be required to report, and when reporting on those miles, describe their context in particularity.

With these steps, AV companies can lessen the pain of California’s disengagement reporting data and advance more quickly to an AV-ready future.

Virgin Orbit to fly 11 satellites for NASA on second orbital launch demo later this year

Virgin Orbit’s first attempt at an orbital launch demo may not have gone entirely to plan (the LauncherOne rocket released as planned but its flight was cut short just after that), but it has booked a payload for its next try – 11 science satellites selected by NASA and primarily designed and built by U.S. universities. Virgin says that it will fly this second launch demo, complete with its cargo, sometime “before the end of the year.”

After the first attempt was cut short prior to the planned conclusion of the rocket, which was aiming to accomplish a more sustained flight of the empty LauncherOne rocket, potentially even to orbital altitude, the Virgin Orbit team conducted a comprehensive investigation of the cause of the issue encountered. That investigation is now nearly complete, the company says, and in a blog cost they note the cause of the mission-ending failure – a broken high-pressure line that is supplies LauncherOne’s rocket engine with liquid oxygen, a required component for the combustion that drives thrust.

Virgin notes that it still has some work to do before the investigation is technically complete, but the small satellite space launch company says it’s confident it knows what technical fixes are needed to prevent the same thing from happening in future, and it’s already in the process of implementing those.

NASA was one of Virgin Orbit’s first customers, and naturally after Launch Demo 1 didn’t go quite to plan, Virgin told the agency they’d have to bump their upcoming payload launch down the line, since Demo 2 would need to be another test without risking any payloads on board to try to achieve the goals of the flubbed first flight. NASA, however, said they’d be comfortable flying payloads on the next attempt regardless.

That shows a tremendous amount of confidence in Virgin Orbit and their program. That end of year target launch timeframe is also highly ambitious by any standards in the space launch industry, but the company says it’s still going to aim for that while at the same time focusing on making sure everything is up to standards in terms of technical details and issue resolution.

Virgin Orbit is hoping to be offering regular operational launches of its system soon. The company’s approach involves flying a rocket attached to a modified 747 carrier aircraft to an altitude around where large passenger jets fly, whereupon the rocket separates from the plane and ignites its own engine to carry small payloads the rest of the way to space.

Virgin Orbit to fly 11 satellites for NASA on second orbital launch demo later this year

Virgin Orbit’s first attempt at an orbital launch demo may not have gone entirely to plan (the LauncherOne rocket released as planned but its flight was cut short just after that), but it has booked a payload for its next try – 11 science satellites selected by NASA and primarily designed and built by U.S. universities. Virgin says that it will fly this second launch demo, complete with its cargo, sometime “before the end of the year.”

After the first attempt was cut short prior to the planned conclusion of the rocket, which was aiming to accomplish a more sustained flight of the empty LauncherOne rocket, potentially even to orbital altitude, the Virgin Orbit team conducted a comprehensive investigation of the cause of the issue encountered. That investigation is now nearly complete, the company says, and in a blog cost they note the cause of the mission-ending failure – a broken high-pressure line that is supplies LauncherOne’s rocket engine with liquid oxygen, a required component for the combustion that drives thrust.

Virgin notes that it still has some work to do before the investigation is technically complete, but the small satellite space launch company says it’s confident it knows what technical fixes are needed to prevent the same thing from happening in future, and it’s already in the process of implementing those.

NASA was one of Virgin Orbit’s first customers, and naturally after Launch Demo 1 didn’t go quite to plan, Virgin told the agency they’d have to bump their upcoming payload launch down the line, since Demo 2 would need to be another test without risking any payloads on board to try to achieve the goals of the flubbed first flight. NASA, however, said they’d be comfortable flying payloads on the next attempt regardless.

That shows a tremendous amount of confidence in Virgin Orbit and their program. That end of year target launch timeframe is also highly ambitious by any standards in the space launch industry, but the company says it’s still going to aim for that while at the same time focusing on making sure everything is up to standards in terms of technical details and issue resolution.

Virgin Orbit is hoping to be offering regular operational launches of its system soon. The company’s approach involves flying a rocket attached to a modified 747 carrier aircraft to an altitude around where large passenger jets fly, whereupon the rocket separates from the plane and ignites its own engine to carry small payloads the rest of the way to space.

Virgin Galactic debuts design of future Mach 3 high-speed aircraft, signs deal with Rolls-Royce

Virgin Galactic is making strides towards its goal of creating high-speed commercial aircraft that operates a little closer to Earth than its existing passenger spacecraft. The company revealed the initial design of the commercial passenger airplane it’s creating that’s designed to fly at speeds in excess of Mach 3 – faster than the average cruising speed of around Mach 2 that the original Concorde achieved.

This concept design comes alongside a new partnership for Virgin Galactic, by way of a memorandum of understanding that the company signed with Rolls-Royce, one of the world’s leading aircraft engine makers. Rolls-Royce is also responsible for the engine of the Concorde, the only supersonic commercial aircraft ever used for passenger travel.

Virgin Galactic announced in May that it would be partnering with NASA to work towards high-speed, high altitude point-to-point travel for commercial airline passengers. The plan is to eventually create an aircraft that can fly above 60,000 feet (the cruising altitude of the Concorde) and carry between 9 and 19 people per fly, with a cabin essentially set up to provide each of those passengers with either Business or First Class-style seating and service. One other key element of the design is that it be powered by next-gen sustainable fuel for more ecological operation.

[gallery ids="2026343,2026344,2026345"]

In some ways, this project has many of the same goals that NASA has with its X-59 Quiet Supersonic research aircraft. Both aim to inspire the industry at large to do more to pursue the development of high-Mach point-to-point travel, and Virgin says that one of its aims is to “act as a catalyst to adoption in the rest of the aviation community” by coming up with baseline “sustainable technologies and techniques.”

Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing subsidiary, The Spaceship Company, also has a partnership in place with startup Boom Supersonic to help develop their supersonic civil passenger aircraft. Boom is set to unveil and begin testing its XB-1 prototype at an event in October, and also recently announced a new partnership with Rolls-Royce to assist with the design and manufacture of the engines for its eventual Overture commercial plane.

The Station: ADA turns 30, Panasonic’s new battery tech and delivery (data) woes

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

Hello and 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 we get into all the mobility news and analysis of the week I wanted to flag an upcoming event that might be of interest to the budding entrepreneurs out there. TC Disrupt, that BIG annual event we hold each fall, is virtual this year. I can’t tell you everything yet, except we put a lot of effort and tech into making this interactive and exciting. This is not going to some boring webinar.

We’re adding a bunch of new events to Disrupt this year, including something we’re calling Pitch Deck Teardown. Top venture capitalists and entrepreneurs will evaluate and suggest fixes for Disrupt 2020 attendees’ pitch decks. Investors who signed up for the Pitch Deck Teardown, include Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures, Charles Hudson with Venture Forward, Niko Bonatsos of General Catalyst, Megan Quinn with Spark Capital, Cyan Banister of Long Journey Ventures, Roelof Botha from Sequoia and Susan Lyne with BBG.

Only pitch decks of registered Disrupt attendees will be selected. Here’s a complete breakdown of the event and how to register.

The Pitch Deck Teardown couldn’t come at a better time either. During our Early Stage event last month, Jake Saper with Emergence Capital talked about how to time your Series A fundraise. September just so happens to be a big month for investors to review pitch decks.

Alrighty then. Vamos.

Friendly reminder that you can reach out and email me anytime 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’

the station scooter1a

This summer is turning out to be a crucial period for scooter companies vying for permits in a handful of markets. Cities learned a thing or two during that first wave of electric scooters that hit the streets a couple of years ago. This time around, city leaders are placing more restrictions on e-scooters and limiting the number of companies allowed to operate in an urban area. That’s an important change, and one that raises the stakes for scooter companies.

First there was Paris, which awarded Dott, Lime and Tier permits to operate in the city. Now, Chicago has issued permits to Bird, Lime and Spin for its second pilot program. Chicago is limiting scooter use to 15 mph between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. And there are few areas, like the Lakefront Trail, where scooters are prohibited.

Each scooter company is limited to no more than 3,333 devices, 50% of which must be deployed with an equity priority area. New to the second pilot is a requirement that all e-scooters must have locks that require riders to secure the scooter to a fixed object to end their trip.

On a side note, Lyft did not apply for the scooter permit. I asked Lyft, ‘why not?’ The company said it’s focusing on its expansion of Divvy, Chicago’s bike-sharing system. The city made Lyft the exclusive operator of Divvy last year and now starting to expand. The Divvy system will eventually include 16,500 bikes and 800 stations. Here’s what Lyft had to say:

“We have spent the better part of the last year working with communities in Chicago’s South and West Sides to prepare for new stations and ebikes. In order to prioritize our work with CDOT to expand Divvy and provide the highest possible experience for Divvy members, Lyft opted out of submitting an application that mirrored requests of this year’s scooter pilot. We are dedicated to the long-term success of micromobility in Chicago, and we look forward to future opportunities to work with the City to combine the benefits of bikes and scooters into one Divvy membership.”

In other micromobbin’ news …

Bird said Friday it is launching its shared e-scooters in Yonkers, New York as an “exclusive” operator. The word “exclusive” is one of those buzzwords that is tossed around a lot so I asked what this actually means. And Bird says it is the only company that will be issued a permit to operate in Yonkers. So there you have it. The company’s fleet of next-generation Bird Two scooters will be available to rent starting August 10.

bird-Yonkers scooters

Image Credits: Bird

Revel, the shared moped startup, has shut down operations in New York City following two deaths within days of each other. The startup’ blue mopeds had become a common sight in New York City. Revel, founded in March 2018 by Frank Reig and Paul Suhey, started with a pilot program in Brooklyn and later expanded to Queens. Revel has been on a fast-paced growth track, expanding to Austin, Miami and Washington, D.C in its first 18 months of operation. In January, the company launched in Oakland and recently announced plans to expand to San Francisco this August.

The company said in a statement that is reviewing its safety measures and does plan to return to New York.

Deal of the week

money the station

Prickly relations between China and the United States, particularly around trade, has not slowed the march of Chinese companies hoping to list on American stock exchanges. Li Auto is just the latest example, Rita Liao reported this week.

Li Auto is aiming for a growing Chinese middle class that aspires to drive cleaner, smarter and larger vehicles. Its first model, sold at a subsidized price of 328,000 yuan, or $46,800, is a six-seat electric SUV that began shipping at the end of last year.

The five-year-old Chinese electric vehicle startup raised $1.1 billion through its debut on Nasdaq. Li Auto priced its IPO north of its targeted range at $11.5 per share, giving it a fully diluted market value of $10 billion. It also raised an additional $380 million in a concurrent private placement of shares to existing investors.

Li Auto

Image credit: Li Auto

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Argo AI is now valued at $7.5 billion, a figure that was confirmed Thursday, nearly two months after VW Group finalized its $2.6 billion investment in the autonomous vehicle technology startup. You might recall that Argo came out of nowhere in 2017 with $1 billion (to be spread over several years) in back from Ford. Last year, VW announced it was going to invest in Argo as well.

Under the deal that was finalized last month, Ford and VW have equal ownership stakes, which will be roughly 40% each over time. The remaining equity sits with Argo’s co-founders as well as employees. Argo’s board is comprised of two VW seats, two Ford seats and three Argo seats. Ford said Thursday it netted $3.5 billion in the second quarter from selling some of its Argo equity to Volkswagen.

AUTO1 Group, the European digital used-car trading platform, raised 255 million euros ($300 million) in the form of convertible notes. The round  was led by Farallon Capital Management and the Baupost Group as well as existing investor Softbank Group, the NYT reported.

Cargo.one, a Berlin-based startup that runs a marketplace for booking air freight, closed an $18.6 million Series A round of funding led by Index Ventures. Other participants in the round include Next47 as well as prior backers Creandum, Lufthansa Cargo and Point Nine Capital. A number of angel investors also joined in, including Tom Stafford of DST Global and Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas, the COO of GoCardless and former chief product officer of Skyscanner.

LINE MAN, the Thai food delivery platform that is a unit of Japanese chat app LINE Corp, raised $110 million from BRV Capital Management and merged with a local restaurant aggregator. LINE MAN is loading up on capital as it aims to compete with Singapore-based Grab, Indonesia’s Go-Jek and Foodpanda of Germany’s Delivery Hero SE, Reuters reported.

FreightWaves, the freight data and analytics company, raised $37 million in a round led by Kayne Partners Fund. Other investors include 8VC, Fontinalis Partners, Revolution Ventures, Hearst Ventures, Prologis Ventures, Story Ventures and Engage Ventures.

Theeb Rent-a-Car is looking into a potential initial public offering. The Saudi Arabian rental company hired Saudi Fransi Capital to advise on the IPO, Bloomberg reported.

Toyota is taking a 10% stake in BluE Nexus, a company that makes electric drive modules. The investment is part of a deepening collaboration between the two companies.

Xpeng, the Chinese electric vehicle startup and Tesla rival that just announced a $500 million Series C+ round, is reportedly in talks to raise around $300 million ahead of an initial public offering (IPO) in the United States. (back to my earlier point about interest among Chinese companies to list on U.S. stock exchanges)

Delivery and data (breaches)

Image credit: Getty

If you hadn’t noticed, delivery has been cast as one of the big success stories to emerge during the COVID-19 pandemic. I use the term “cast” because it’s not all sunshine, roses and rainbows for the delivery industry or its users.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a spike in demand for delivery services. It has also helped propel unprecedented consolidation as companies like Uber seek profitability.

There are challenges though, including an area that perhaps deserves A LOT MORE ATTENTION. I’m talking about data and privacy. Delivery companies, which includes a growing number of autonomous and teleoperated services, collect a ton of personal data from its customers. The kind of valuable data, like home addresses and credit card numbers, that are sold on the dark web.

This week, our cybersecurity editor Zack Whittaker reported on two data breaches involving delivery companies. The first was Drizly, one of the biggest online alcohol delivery services in the U.S. and Canada, raising over $68 million to date. Drizly told customers a hacker “obtained” some customer data. The hacker took customer email addresses, date-of-birth, passwords hashed using the stronger bcrypt algorithm and, in some cases, delivery addresses.

As many as 2.5 million Drizly accounts are believed to have been stolen. Here’s something to take note of, Drizy told TechCrunch that no financial information was compromised. However, a listing on a dark web marketplace from a well-known seller of stolen data claims otherwise. TechCrunch, of course, didn’t link to it. But Whittaker did take and share a screenshot.

Meanwhile, online shopping and delivery service Instacart is blaming customers who reused passwords for a recent spate of account breaches. The data breach compromised 270,000 Instacart customers. The company published a statement late on Thursday saying its investigation showed that Instacart “was not compromised or breached,” but pointed to credential stuffing, where hackers take lists of usernames and passwords stolen from other breached sites and brute-force their way into other accounts.

Customers can’t shoulder all of the responsibility. Instacart, as Whittaker notes, still does not support two-factor authentication, which — if customers had enabled — would have prevented the account hacks to begin with.

Other delivery news …

Flipkart, which is owned by Walmart, launched a hyperlocal service in suburbs of Bangalore, four years after the e-commerce group abruptly concluded its previous foray into this category.

The new service called Flipkart Quick uses the company’s supply chain infrastructure and a new location mapping technology framework to deliver within 90 minutes to customers more than 2,000 products across grocery, perishables, smartphones, electronics accessories and stationary items.

It’s electric

the station electric vehicles1

Remember the days when electric vehicle news was relegated to Tesla, the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt? Times have changed and, well, stayed the same. Tesla still dominates the headlines and this week wasn’t any different. (more on them later). But now, there are dozens of other electric vehicle models coming to market. The upshot: charging infrastructure is becoming more important. (Hey, not everyone has a garage).

This week, GM and EVgo announced plans to add more than 2,700 new fast chargers. The rollout, which will take five years, will triple the size of the EVgo network. The first of these new EVgo fast charging stations will be available to customers starting early 2021.

The companies are targeting high-traffic areas like grocery stores, retail outlets, entertainment centers, areas where people typically spend 15 to 30 minutes. The stations, which will be powered by renewable energy, will feature new charging technology with 100 to 350-kilowatt capabilities, the companies said.

The charging partnership follows a numerous announcements from GM around its electric vehicle strategy. Earlier this week, GM said steel construction has started on the nearly 3-million-square-foot factory that will mass produce Ultium battery cells and packs. The Ultium battery, along with a modular propulsion system and electric vehicle platform, is the cornerstone of GM’ strategy to bring 20 electric vehicles to market by 2023.

GM recently released a video of its upcoming GMC Hummer EV and next week plans to reveal the Cadillac LYRIQ.

GM and EVgo charging

Image Credits: GM/EVgo

Other electric news this week …

BMW said it will offer the all-electric versions of X1 compact SUV and the 5 Series as part of the German automaker’s plans to have 25 electrified models in its portfolio by 2023.

Electric Brands is working on a VW Bus-inspired EV called the eBussy, via The Drive.

Fisker Inc. revealed in a presentation that was filed with the SEC that a “cornerstone agreement” with Volkswagen has been delayed, the Verge reported. Fisker wants to use Volkswagen’s modular EV platform for its upcoming electric vehicles.

Kandi Technologies Group, the Chinese electric vehicle and parts manufacturer, bringing two EVs to the United States through its subsidiary Kandi America. The two models, which are priced under $30,000 before federal incentives, will be the cheapest EVs in the United States.

Lucid Motors provided new details about its upcoming electric vehicle, the Air. In short, this luxury EV sedan is loaded up with hardware — dozens of sensors, a driver monitoring system and an Ethernet-based architecture — for an advanced driver assistance system that aims to match and even surpass its rivals.

There will be 32 sensors in all, according to Lucid, which has branded its advanced driver assistance system DreamDrive. Lidar, a sensor that gets a lot of attention, will be on the vehicle. But I was struck by the number of radar sensors on the Air. There will be five radars in all, giving the vehicle 360 degrees of radar coverage.

Panasonic revealed to TechCrunch this week that it developed new battery technology for the “2170” lithium-ion cells it produces and supplies to Tesla, a change that improves energy density by 5% and reduces costly cobalt content. The new, higher energy dense 2170 cells will be produced by Panasonic at Tesla’s factory in Sparks, Nevada. Improvements on the battery tech will continue with a 20% improvement in energy density over the next five years and a goal to be cobalt free.

Rivian’s retail strategy is starting to emerge. The company has said it will try and repurpose existing buildings for its stores, when possible. This week, the company said it is pursuing the purchase of the historic Laguna Beach South Coast Cinema. The theater’s present structure, was opened in 1935 and stood as the city’s only cinema until it closed its doors in August 2015.

Tesla’s sales in China are becoming increasingly important to its bottom line. An SEC filing this week shows that revenue in China climbed 102.9% year-over-year to $1.4 billion. That means China now makes up 23.3% of Tesla’s total revenues of $6 billion in the quarter, compared to just about 11% in the same period a year before.

Tesla also revealed in the same SEC filing that it received payroll-related benefits from the government, funds that helped reduce the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its business, Reuters reported.

Speaking of Tesla … CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter on Tuesday night to say that the automaker would be “open to licensing software and supplying powertrains & batteries” to other automakers. Musk added that that would even include Autopilot, the advanced driver assistance software that Tesla offers to provide intelligent cruise control in a number of different driving scenarios. No word on whether any companies are biting.

ADA and mobility

Illustration of a group of people with a variety of disabilities cheering

Image Credits: iStock / Getty Images

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 paved the way for decades of incremental changes to the way buildings, businesses and laws accommodate people with a wide variety of disabilities. As reporter Devin Coldewey notes, the law’s effect on tech has been profound.

There is still a lot of work to do. I’m looking at all of you autonomous vehicle engineers, designers and founders.

Here are a few stories that highlight the impact of ADA.

Start with Coldewey’s overview on ADA and tech. Then move over to Streetsblog, which digs into the role bicycles have played as mobility assistive devices. Finally, check out this story on Fable, a startup that aims to make disability-inclusive design easier by providing testing and development assistance from disabled folks on-demand.

See ya’ll next week. 

Lyft expands its rental business with Sixt partnership

Lyft continues to expand beyond its core ride-hailing business into bikes, scooters, transit and now rental cars. The company said Thursday that it’s taking Lyft Rentals, a pilot program that launched in December, and expanding it through a partnership with Sixt.

Lyft Rentals initially gave folks in Los Angeles and San Francisco the ability to rent vehicles through its app, which might be traditionally used to hail a ride or grab a shared scooter. The pilot was successful enough to warrant an expansion, but with one notable change. Lyft owns and operates the rental fleet in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The new partnership will shift that responsibility to Sixt, a global rental car company with more than 70 locations in the United States. Lyft said it will continue to own and operate the rental fleet in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The car rental option via the Sixt partnership will initially expand to Las Vegas, Miami and Seattle. Lyft said it plans to expand to all cities within the Sixt rental network in the U.S. in the coming months.

Customers can open the Lyft app to find a selection of cars that can be rented directly from the “Rentals” tab. From here, users can select their vehicle class, reservation dates, location and an option to add insurance coverage. Customers also have the option to select the exact make and model of their vehicle. Lyft said it will provide a $10 credit to be used to hail a ride after dropping the car back at the Sixt lot.

Lyft-Rentals-gif

Image Credits: Lyft

Lyft Rentals shouldn’t be confused with the company’s Express Drive program, which gives people who want to drive on the Lyft ride-hailing app a way to gain access to a vehicle. Express Drive, which is in partnership with Hertz, is aimed at drivers. Lyft Rentals is a consumer product.

Lyft is betting that the partnership with Sixt will allow it to scale quickly without taking on the high capital costs of buying, owning and maintaining the actual vehicles, not to mention the burden of managing the various permits required to operate a rental car company in cities and at airports.

Lyft will receive a commission from each rental made through the app, according to the company.

Boom Supersonic enlists Rolls-Royce to help build the engines for world’s fastest commercial aircraft

Boom Supersonic, the Colorado -based startup working on creating a supersonic passenger jet to continue and dramatically advance the legacy of the original Concorde, has signed on Rolls-Royce to build the propulsion system for its Overture commercial aircraft. Boom is getting very close to actually beginning to fly its XB-1, a sub-scale demonstrator aircraft that will test and prove out many of the technologies that will be used to bring Overture to life.

This isn’t the first time Boom and Rolls-Royce have worked together: The two companies have had a number of different collaborations on aspects of their development process to date, Boom notes. Rolls-Royce has a history of developing engines for civil aircraft applications dating all the way back to the Second World War, and is the second-largest maker of aircraft engines in the world.

Boom’s relative newcomer status should benefit greatly from the long tradition Rolls-Royce has in creating aircraft propulsion systems – and it doesn’t hurt that Rolls-Royce had a hand in creating the Olympus 593 turbojet that powered the original Concorde.

The Overture aims to be the world’s fastest passenger aircraft, with flights taking half the time they do on conventional commercial jets (New York to London in just three-and-a-half hours, for instance). The company aims to provide essentially dedicated business class service to a frequent business traveler clientele, and to do so sometime in the next five to 10 years.

The XB-1 demonstrator jet has a set reveal date of October 7 this year, which is the first time we’ll get a first-hand look at a fully functional aircraft that Boom really intends to fly.