Tuesday, 21 February 2023

Tesla battles with union organizers, Zoox hits the road and Zeekr scores more capital

by Berkeley Lovelace

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EV charging has improved over the years, but it’s still unable to support the number of electric vehicles the Biden Administration wants to see on the road in the next few years. The administration’s $7.5 billion EV charging initiative is supposed to help solve that problem. And now, we finally have clarity around what it will take for companies to access those funds.

The Biden administration laid out the final standards for its plan to build a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers along highways, including a requirement that all EV chargers funded through the Inflation Reduction Act must be built in the United States. Specifically, the final assembly and all manufacturing processes for any iron or steel charger enclosures or housing must occur in the United States. And by July 2024, at least 55% of the cost of all components will need to be manufactured domestically, as well.

All chargers are also required to use a standardized payment system that is smartphone-friendly and all connectors must use the “combined charging system” (CCS), which dominates in the U.S.

Will this be enough to solve the U.S. EV infrastructure problem? Or does the plan miss some critical points? Let me know what you think and I’ll share it in the next newsletter.

OK, let’s dive into the rest of the news of the week.

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Tesla battles with union organizers, Zoox hits the road and Zeekr scores more capital

Brexit has cost Ride & Glide, a micromobility retailer in the UK, $200,000 per year.

Cowboy says it will be profitable by this summer. The company hit $45 million in revenue last year.

E-bike incentives lead to more bikers, which makes biking safer, which creates more bikers, which makes biking safer …

Electra Bicycle Co. has launched the Loft Go! 7D EQ e-bike. The city cruiser comes in either step-through or step-over frame and costs $2000. Probably the coolest thing about the bike is it doesn’t even look like an e-bike. The 250 kWh battery is completely integrated and has a 40 mile range.

Geely’s Panda Mini, a very cute, affordable mini EV, might be sold in Europe soon.

MIT Media Lab is working on a self-driving tricycle that can be summoned on demand. A cool project, but the similar efforts of Tortoise and its three-wheeled ghost scooter have taught us that this will be a hard sell.

There’s a petition circulating in New Zealand that aims to convince the government to offer a rebate for e-bikes. Is it a good idea? Obviously, says the woman huffing and puffing up Auckland’s many hills on a pushbike. Will it happen? Maybe if the current Labour-led government moves quickly before the October elections. But when do politicians ever move quickly?

Porsche is renaming the Croatian e-bike company it bought in 2021 from Greyp to Porsche eBike Performance. Maybe new bikes will follow.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

Zeekr sure has managed to make some big moves in its short life.

The two-year-old luxury EV brand under China’s largest private carmaker Geely, raised $750 million in its Series A funding round. And wait for it … the company’s post-money valuation is now $13 billion.


And lest you forget, the news comes just two months after Zeekr said it had confidentially filed for an initial public offering in the U.S. We’re not sure what this fresh injection of cash means for its IPO. We’ve reached out to Zeekr and will provide an update.

Other deals that got my attention …

Cazoo Group, UK-based online car retailer, agreed to sell Cluno, its German subscription business, to ViveLaCar GmbH and The Platform Group GmbH & Co. The financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed, the total portfolio includes several thousand cars in the German market, according to the company.

ChargerHelp!, a Los Angeles startup that launched on-demand repair app for EV charging, raised $17.5 million in Series A funding led by Blue Bear Capital. Aligned Climate Capital, Exelon Corporation, and previous investors Energy Impact Partners and non sibi ventures also participated. ChargerHelp raised $2.75 million in 2021.

Side note: ChargerHelp! was also highlighted by the Biden Administration in its EV charging plan announcement that I wrote about earlier. ChargerHelp and SAE International’s Sustainable Mobility Solutions formed a partnership to assist in training the next-generation of essential workers who are certified as electric vehicle service equipment maintenance technicians (EVSE). Within the next two years, the EVSE Field Technician Program will help more than 3,000 trainees from low-income, disadvantaged, typically underrepresented communities, and those transitioning from other industries reach these jobs.

Cylib, the German battery recycling startup, raised €11.6 million ($12.6 million) to build a factory. World Fund led the round with existing investors Vsquared Ventures and Speedinvest also participating. 10x Founders also joined.

Dance, the micro-EV subscription startup created by former SoundCloud and Jimdo founder, raised an additional €12 million ($12.8M) in an equity and debt round led by existing investors HV Capital, Eurazeo and BlueYard. The subscription launched in Berlin and has since expanded to Paris, Hamburg, Munich and Vienna.

Dronamics, an autonomous cargo drone startup based in London, raised $40 million in a pre-seed Series A round that includes investors from Founders Factory, Speedinvest, Eleven Capital and the Strategic Development Fund, the investment arm of the Tawazun Council, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Hesai, the Chinese lidar company, raised $190 million from its public offering on Nasdaq. TechCrunch’s Rita Liao shares the company’s long and winding road to IPO.

Honeycomb Battery Co., an advanced battery technology subsidiary of Global Graphene Group, plans to go public via a merger agreement with special purpose acquisition company Nubia Brand International Corp. The combined entity plans to be listed on the Nasdaq exchange.

Ouster and Velodyne officially merged. TechCrunch interviewed CEO Angus Pacala, who says the next phase of growth isn’t self-driving cars or even advanced driver assistance systems; it’s smart infrastructure.

OpenEyes, an insurtech startup focused on commercial automotive fleets, made its public debut and announced it raised $18 million in Series A funding round. Software investor Insight Partners and Pitango First led the round with participation by MoreVC. To date, OpenEyes has raised $23 million.

Simple Energy raised $20 million to ramp up production of its electric moped in India.

Spiffy, an on-demand car care, technology and services company, raised $30 million in a Series C round led by Edison Partners, with participation from existing investors Tribeca Venture Partners, Bull City Venture Partners, IDEA Fund Partners, Trog Hawley Capital, Attinger and Private Access Network. Strategic investors Shell Ventures, Goodyear Ventures, and Mann+Hummel also participated.

Via, the on-demand shuttle service and transit tech company, raised another $110 million, bringing the company’s total funding to around $1 billion. The fresh capital pushes Via’s valuation up to $3.5 billion at the same price per share as the company’s previous financing in November of 2021.

VivaCity, a traffic sensor and data company, raised $8.5 million in a funding round led by sustainable infrastructure VC investor EnBW New Ventures (ENV), sustainability-led alternative assets and SME investment manager Foresight Group and Gresham House Ventures, the growth equity arm of specialist alternative asset manager Gresham House.

Notable news and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

The California Department of Motor Vehicles said companies with permits to test autonomous vehicles in the state reported their technologies drove more than 5.7 million miles during the latest reporting period (December 1, 2021-November 30, 2022). The data was shared as part of the required disengagement reports submitted to the DMV. Other fun facts: 5.1 million of those miles was with a safety driver and 622,257 miles were driverless testing. The total is an increase of more than 1 million miles from the previous reporting period.

Zoox has received a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles that allows its custom-built robotaxis to operate on public roads. The Zoox robotaxi made its inaugural launch on public roads last weekend. For now, the robotaxi will only carry Zoox employees on a roughly 2-mile loop between the company’s two main offices in Foster City, California. (There are more permits to garner before Zoox can launch a commercial operation.)

The scope of Zoox’s launch on public roads is limited; however, it does mark another milestone for a company that launched quietly eight years ago with an ambitious goal to build and operate a commercial robotaxi service with its own purpose-built vehicle.

Electric vehicles, charging & batteries

Cadillac plans to reveal three more EVs this year that should enter production in 2024.

Chris-Craft, yes, the boat company, unveiled its first all-electric concept boat, the Launch 25 GTe, at the 2023 Miami International Boat Show.

The European Parliament formally approved a law to ban the sale of new gas and diesel cars in the European Union starting in 2035.

Ford plans to invest $3.5 billion to build a factory in Michigan that will make cheaper lithium iron phosphate batteries for its growing portfolio of electric vehicles. Ford will work with Chinese company Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., known as CATL. Under the arrangement, Ford’s wholly owned subsidiary would manufacture the battery cells using LFP battery cell knowledge and services provided by CATL. The arrangement has caught the attention of the Chinese government and U.S. Sen. Mark Rubio, who wants the Biden Administration to review the deal.

One of Ford’s nagging problems has been recalls and other inefficiencies that are cutting into its bottom line. Now, a new issue has popped up that could hurt its EV truck sales. Ford paused production and shipments of the F-150 Lightning due to a potential battery issue. That stoppage, which started at the beginning of last week, has been extended and could last a few weeks.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company is partnering with Angel Island Ferry to electrify what will be California’s first zero emission short-route ferry, starting in 2024.

Stellantis brand Ram has developed a mid-sized EV pickup truck concept and plans to show it off to dealers next month. Speaking of Ram, the brand revealed a pre-production version of its upcoming full-size electric truck in an ad that aired during the Super Bowl. The Ram 1500 Revolution is packed with screens and, surprisingly buttons and knobs, Matt Burns writes.

Subaru issued another recall for its battery electric Solterra crossover due to concerns that hub bolts on the wheels may loosen and cause it to detach.


Yup, earnings season is still on. This week, it was Aurora and Gogoro. Next week, Lucid and Joby Aviation report earnings.

Aurora Innovation reiterated during its earnings call that it will have enough money to get through mid-2024; The company plans to launch commercial operations by the end of 2024, according to co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson. Aurora reported it ended the year with $1.1 billion in cash and short-term investments. Aurora also noted that it recognized the remaining $2 million in collaboration revenue through its agreement with Toyota, for a total of $68 million recognized from the deal in 2022.

Aurora’s operating expenses in Q4 were $156 million, $131 million of which was spent on R&D and the rest on SG&A. For the full year, Aurora’s operating expenses were $650 million in total, with $540 million spent on R&D, primarily comprised of personal costs, according to the company. Investors reacted favorably to Aurora’s earnings report, likely because guidance remained unchanged.

Gogoro took nearly a 10% hit to its stock price after it reported weak earnings for the fourth quarter. Gogoro made $95.5 million in revenue in Q4, which is down 20.8% YOY. The company blamed foreign exchange rates for this, saying that revenue would have been up an additional $12.4 million had rates remained constant with the average rate of Q4 2021. For the full year, Gogoro pulled revenue of $382.8 million, up 4.6% YOY.

The battery swapping company reported a fourth quarter net loss of $12.5 million and a full year net loss of $98.9 million. Gogoro ended 2022 with $236.1 million in cash. The company said it expects revenue for 2023 to land between $400 million and $450 million, an increase of 4.5% to 17.6% compared to 2022. Gogoro said it expects most of that revenue to come from its Taiwan market, despite heavy investment in other markets like India.

Future of flight

Joby Aviation has started final assembly on its “company-conforming” eVTOL, which is essentially a prototype that’s a couple steps away from the final version. Joby expects to begin flight testing for the aircraft in the first half of this year.

In-car tech

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration said Hyundai and Kia have developed theft deterrent software for more than 8 million of its vehicles that lack an immobilizer system, which has made them a target of thieves across the country. The software will be provided free of charge to vehicle owners.


Convoy, the Seattle-based digital freight network that connects truckers with shippers, is shuttering its Atlanta office and laying off workers as part of a restructuring. This is the third time in less than a year that Convoy has laid off workers.

The NYT featured Missy Cummings, a professor at George Mason University who specializes in autonomous systems and who spent a year at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Cummings wants to rein in how driver-assistance systems are used.

Rivian hired Michael Callahan as its chief legal officer. Callahan is joining Rivian from Stanford University, where he served as executive director of the Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance and Professor of the Practice of Law.

Shoichiro Toyoda, the son of Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda and long-serving executive of the automaker, died of heart failure at the age of 97. Shoichiro Toyoda led the company through decades of growth and notably pioneered a new model for quality control in manufacturing and was responsible for Prius and the creation of its luxury brand Lexus.


Lyft finally started charging riders wait time fees in December, but drivers are complaining those fees aren’t making it into their wallets. At least, not yet.

Uber drivers in New Zealand will be pushing for better pay and working conditions through their first-ever collective agreement with the company.


Tesla is one of those companies that never seems to have a quiet period. There is always something going on with the company, or its CEO Elon Musk. And this week was no different. The big three Tesla stories this week involve unions, Biden’s $7.5B EV charging initiative and a recall of its Full Self-Driving software.

We covered some of the Biden EV charging business up top. Tesla is a big part of that announcement because the company has agreed to open up a portion of its Supercharger and destination charger network to non-Tesla EVs. The company will make at least 7,500 chargers available for all EVs by the end of 2024, according to the White House. At least 3,500 of those will be 250 kW chargers located along highway corridors. All EV drivers will be able to access these stations using the Tesla app or website.

Notably, Tesla has also agreed to more than double its supercharger network. TechCrunch’s Tim de Chant weighs in (over at TC+) on what this might mean for the automaker.

Meanwhile, trouble is afoot at the company’s Buffalo, New York factory. A group of Tesla employees (known as Tesla Workers United) who work as data labelers on the Autopilot team at the Buffalo plant, announced plans to organize a union. A day later, the group filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that Tesla fired more than 30 employees who work at the factory in retaliation for union organizing.

And, unsurprisingly, Tesla clapped back and called the allegations false. The Tesla Workers United was not amused and held a press conference Saturday to discuss its ongoing union campaign and company’s response to their efforts, including the claims that their Twitter account has been shadowbanned.

This could get ugly.

Finally, we wrap up the Tesla section with a recall of the company’s “Full Self-Driving” software, an advanced driver-assistance system that federal safety regulators say could allow vehicles to act unsafe around intersections and cause crashes.

Tesla said the recall affects 362,758 vehicles equipped with the software (I guess we now know how many folks have FSD). Tesla will release an over-the-air software update, free of charge, to fix the issue.

I got lots of DMs and emails about how we shouldn’t call this a recall because it’s not a mechanical problem. An over-the-air software update should not be called a recall!, many of you exclaimed. That’s the accepted terminology used by both companies, so I’m not calling it anything different.

And, consider this: software is just as critical to a vehicle’s safe operations as its mechanical bits. It all matters!

Tesla battles with union organizers, Zoox hits the road and Zeekr scores more capital by Kirsten Korosec originally published on TechCrunch