The Station: Layoffs are coming for the AV world, VW plans 'big moves' in China and inside Cruise's robotaxi outages

·6 min read

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Welcome back to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.

Before we jump in, I wanted to flag that Rebecca Bellan is out this week, which means micromobbin' is also taking a break (one micromobility story I thought was interesting: Amazon is swapping out vans for cargo bikes in central London).

Speaking of Rebecca, she has been leading our founders Q&A series that has been running for a year now. As part of the series, we are checking in with founders a year after their initial interview to see what has happened, what they've learned and even where they have failed.

Our pick this month: Veo co-founder and CEO Candice Xie (TechCrunch+ subscription required).

As always, you can email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. You also can send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

A little bird

blinky cat bird green
blinky cat bird green

Here are a couple of nuggets I'm hearing from the little birds that have been whispering in my ear.

Layoffs are coming for the autonomous vehicle world. One example, which I wrote about, is Argo AI. But I'm hearing rumbles that more layoffs will be coming this quarter at other companies. Like Argo, these appear to be an effort to adjust from some over-hiring.

Looks like Wheels, which offers seated scooters and an integrated helmet technology, is furloughing some employees. You might recall that last month Helbiz said it has signed a letter of intent to acquire Wheels. These latest furloughs follow another round that occurred last month.

Deal of the week

money the station
money the station

While we traditionally like to focus on two-, three- and four-wheeled vehicles and, of course, aircraft, sometimes it's worth highlighting a deal that will affect transportation. I'm talking about delivery of goods, specifically, Amazon's investment into and partnership with Grubhub.

The commercial terms of the agreement looks like it will give Amazon a stake in Just Eat Takeaway, which owns Grubhub in the United States.

Amazon tried to build its own delivery competitor to Grubhub and Doordash and then scrapped that effort in 2019. This new strategy aims to encourage more sign-ups to its Prime subscription service and give it a slice of the food delivery game. (Prime members will be offered free membership to Grubhub+ for one year).

Why should you care? Amazon has its fingers in just about every piece of logistics and delivery, including that burrito you want to order, and it's either investing in, acquiring, partnering or internally building out robotics, autonomous vehicles technology, EVs and drones. At some point, all of these pieces will come together.

Other deals that got my attention this week ...

Antin Infrastructure Partners invested in RAW Charging, capital that will support the U.K.-based EV fast-charging startup's £250 million ($300 million) EV charger installation plan.

APFusion, an automotive B2B marketplace for the auto salvage industry, raised $6.5 million in a seed round co-led by Left Lane Capital and Bedrock Capital. Existing investor M25 also participated.

EVCS, an EV fast-charging network, raised $68.8 million comprised of a $50 million debt facility from Spring Lane Capital, and a Series A equity investment of $18.8 million co-led by Abdo Partners, Spring Lane Capital and the Copulos Group. EVCS said it plans to more than double its network footprint to nearly 1,500 chargers by 2023.

Mullen Automotive, the EV SPAC, said it eliminated $17.5 million in company debt and reduced its overall indebtedness from more than $30 million last year to an estimated $11 million currently.

Northvolt, the Swedish battery maker, secured new funds at last year's valuation of $12 billion, Bloomberg reported, citing a person familiar with the matter. Separately, Northvolt said it signed a $1.1 billion convertible note to finance an expansion of its production capabilities in Europe.

Scandinavian airline SAS filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S., following a pilot strike that it said was putting pressure on its already squeezed finances.

Volvo Group's venture arm made an undisclosed strategic investment in Optibus, an Israeli-based startup that uses AI to help public transportation agencies plan and operate their networks. The investment comes about two months since it raised $100 million in a Series D round.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Argo AI has laid off about 150 people from its global workforce, which today exceeds more than 2,000 people. The company is still hiring, but the pace has slowed, one source told me.

Cruise's robotaxi outages stretched beyond the one roadblock incident we reported last week. Wired's Aarian Marshall has an excellent article on a series of incidents in which a GM subsidiary lost contact with its autonomous vehicles, leaving them frozen in traffic and trapping human drivers.

Outrider, the Golden, Colorado-based autonomous yard operations startup, is releasing a next-generation autonomy kit for yard automation, FreightWaves reported.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a special investigation into a crash in San Francisco involving a Cruise autonomous vehicle that resulted in minor injuries.

Electric vehicles & batteries

Consumer Reports released results of a survey that found 28% of U.S. respondents would not buy an electric vehicle.

Can Polestar succeed where other EV SPACs have failed?

Rivian produced 4,401 EVs at its manufacturing facility in Normal, Illinois in the second quarter and delivered 4,467 during the quarter ended June 30, the company reported. Rivian said it is on track to hit its 25,000 production target by the end of the year.

Tata Motors wants to sell 50,000 electric vehicles by the end of the fiscal year ending March 31, the company’s chairperson Natarajan Chandrasekaran said during a shareholders’ meeting.

Toyota reached the 200,000-unit cap on electric and plug-in-hybrid vehicles that are eligible for a federal tax credit of $7,500.

Volkswagen Group broke ground at the first of six battery factories it expects to build in Europe, the official kickoff of a new battery business called PowerCo. The plan is to invest $20 billion through 2030 to become a global EV leader.

In-car tech

Digital distraction in vehicles is getting worse, LA Times reports (subscription required).

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess said the company is planning “big moves” in China, including employing several thousand people at its automotive software arm Cariad.

Tesla

Another week, another 5 million Tesla stories.

  • Lawyers representing two former Tesla employees who were terminated in mid-June filed an emergency motion asking a judge to prohibit the electric vehicle maker from forcing workers to sign releases in exchange for less severance than federal law provides.

  • Elon Musk has attempted to terminate his agreement to buy Twitter. Reading the letter, this is going to be, um, well, difficult. Let the legal battle commence! The announcement did provide a small bump to Tesla's share price.

  • Tesla plans to begin opening its Supercharger network to other electric vehicles by the end of the year, according to a White House memo that shared the automaker’s plans.

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened an investigation into a fatal crash involving a Tesla, according to documents viewed by TechCrunch.

Miscellaneous

The danger of license plate readers in post-Roe America, from Wired.

People

ZF Friedrichshafen has appointed Holger Klein as its next chairman and CEO, succeeding Wolf-Henning Scheider, who will leave the company at the start of 2023. Klein is currently a ZF management board member focused on the Asia-Pacific region.

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