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Welcome back to TechCrunch Mobility — your central hub for news and insights on the future of transportation.
This week, read about autonomous vehicle company Motional, why the Tesla board is likely having discussions about Elon Musk's 2018 $56 billion pay package, a new unicorn focused on student transportation, and more.
A little bird
Here's a fun one for y'all. Amid all the layoffs and startup failures, there is also hiring going on.
A little bird pointed us to one particularly interesting hire over at Elon Musk's The Boring Company. Vignesh Swaminathan — who is also known as Mr. Barricade to his 1.8 million TikTok followers — recently took a position as a senior civil engineer. Why so noteworthy? Swaminathan is a well-known urban planner (and TikToker) who spent the better part of a decade focused on designing bikeways and pedestrian paths as CEO and president of Crossroad Lab.
It appears that Crossroad Lab, a Cupertino, California–based civil engineering design firm, shut down in January. Swaminathan took the job at The Boring Company a couple weeks later. We wonder if his previous urban planner and bike-focused experience will be put to work at The Boring Company?
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Deal of the week
A new unicorn has been born. I'm talk about Zūm, a student transportation startup that uses a mix of buses, vans and other vehicles combined with software to provide efficient and safe routes to and from school for kids.
The startup, founded and run by Ritu Narayan, raised $140 million in a Series E funding round led by global investment firm GIC. Other investors included Climate Investment, Sequoia and SoftBank Vision Fund 2. The funding pushed its valuation to $1.3 billion.
Zūm has made headway in the past several years, locking in school district customers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Nashville and Maryland. Now it's focused on converting its fleet of vehicles to all EVs by 2027 while continuing to grow its footprint.
Other deals that got my attention . . .
BluSmart, an Indian ride-hailing startup that competes with Uber and homegrown rival Ola, raised $25 million from Switzerland-headquartered impact fund ResponsAbility in a mezzanine structure, including partial equity dilution and debt.
OK, so this isn't so much a deal as a dealbreaker. Cake, the Swedish electric motorcycle startup, filed for bankruptcy February 1 after failing to secure enough investment. Cake joins a growing list of micromobility companies that have run into financial trouble over the past year, most recently VanMoof, Superpedestrian and Bird.
Kura, a U.K. startup that combined a school bus service with a software platform to safeguard pupils, was acquired by "smart buses" startup Zeelo.
Notable reads and other tidbits
XPeng, Tesla’s challenger from China, is making plans to bring its advanced driving assistance tech to international markets.
Motional is the product of a joint venture between Hyundai and automotive supplier Aptiv. But that relationship is changing. Aptiv said it will no longer allocate capital toward the endeavor. We explain why.
Electric vehicles, batteries & charging
Arrival, the commercial EV startup, is being removed from the Nasdaq stock exchange as it speeds toward dissolution.
Tesla was sued by 25 California counties alleging the automaker has repeatedly mishandled hazardous waste at facilities throughout the state. Two days later, the parties settled, with Tesla agreeing to $1.5 million in fines and a five-year injunction that requires inspections.
Hesai, a Chinese company that makes lidar sensors, was added to the U.S. Department of Defense's list of "Chinese Military Companies." Hesai called the inclusion "unjust, capricious and meritless" and said that the sensors are for civilian use only. Hesai also emphasized the company doesn't have ties of any kind to any military in any country.
Elon Musk's $56 billion pay package is unfair, a Delaware judge ruled. If the decision stands (many expect an appeal), it will void the largest compensation deal in corporate history.
This week's wheels
Image Credits: Kirsten Korosec
I recently spent a week in this Hanauma mint-colored Genesis GV60 Performance. Top takeaways? This is a slick-looking and premium (inside and out) all-electric vehicle that is fast off the line and pretty darn fun to drive, but not exactly amazing on tight mountain turns.
The all-wheel-drive vehicle (there are electric motors in the front and rear) make for generally good handling. When I pushed it, there was a bit of body roll through the turns. But let's be honest here, most consumers don't drive like they're on a test track. Nor should they.
The 77.4 kWh battery combined with the electric motors produce 429 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. That allows the GV60 to go from 0 to 60 miles in about four seconds — certainly fast enough to be appreciated by EV aficionados. The battery range of 235 miles is low in this EV era. It's certainly enough for the commute and daily driving needs, but some consumers may balk at spending the base price of $69,550 for an all-electric SUV with such a low range compared to its peers.