A conversation with Cruise’s Kyle Vogt, Bird scoops up Spin, and self-driving trucks live to see another day in Cali

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TechCrunch staff from our various coverage hubs around the world — New York, Austin, London, Los Angeles, China — descended on San Francisco this past week for Disrupt 2023. What a wild time! Startup founders were EVERYWHERE; so were investors. Even Shaquille O’Neal was there.

My personal highlights included my interviews with Redwood Materials founder and CEO JB Straubel (it covered a lot of ground including maintaining a startup mentality) and Cruise co-founder and CEO Kyle Vogt. The interview with Vogt was particularly illuminating.

  • The company has surpassed 5 million miles of driverless rides
  • Vogt asked at what point does it still make sense to have human-driven cars in cities? He said Cruise would not actively lobby for this to happen, but would support cities that took such action.
  • Cruise has been working on a winterized version of the Origin and plans to start producing and deploying them on public streets in two years.
  • Vogt wouldn’t comment on the UAW strike. Remember that those Origin and Chevy Bolt AV vehicles are produced at a GM factory.

There is a lot more that we covered including whether Cruise would stay in San Francisco if its permit is revoked (something city officials are seeking). Catch the entire the interview here.


Before I forget, scroll down to read about some of the climate tech and transportation related Startup Battlefield participants.

Oh and yes, yes, I did take a number of driverless rides while I was in San Francisco. There weren’t any snafus, but I would say the drop off spots could be improved.


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Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

This week, my colleague Haje Jan Kamps spoke to motorcycle legend Erik Buell about the future of powerful two-wheelers. The takeaway? The future is electric.

That’s partly because the future of everything is electric, and some cities like Paris are even issuing parking charges for two-wheelers with internal combustion engines. But it’s also just because electric motorcycles make more sense from a physics and practicality perspective, especially when you’re talking about taking short inner-city trips.

Buell predicted that electric motorcycles will grow in popularity around the world, especially as ADAS systems in cars take hold to improve road safety for everyone. He also predicted a world in which more vehicles are charged via solar power.

Buell recently launched his $10,695 Fuell Fllow e-motorcycle, which boasts 150+ miles range, 750 Nm torque and 50 liters storage.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

Ever wonder what it’s like to work at a company that is sold twice within a span of 18 months? I bet the folks at Spin might have some insight — and stories.

ICYMI: Shared micromobility company Tier sold Spin to Bird — yes, Bird! — for $19 million, including $10 million in cash, $6 million in a vendor take back and $3 million as a hold back.

You might recall that Ford sold Spin to Tier back in March 2022. Tier was aiming to expand its presence in the U.S. Tier has struggled to get a handle on costs, let alone reach profitability. The company raised a convertible note round in May as it searched for a buyer and there have been reports that Voi, a micromobility operator out of Sweden, is in talks to buy it.

Bird’s financial picture isn’t the rosiest either. The shared micromobility company closed out its second quarter with negative free cash flow of -$1.8 million, but says that gap is starting to close as it slashes costs and restructures operations. Meanwhile Spin generated about $45 million in revenue in the 12 months ending in June 30, 2023, which brings Bird and Spin’s combined net revenue to $265 million for that period.

Bird says the transaction is expected to have upwards of $20 million in synergies and will add immediate growth to its earnings, in part due to recent operational restructuring.

Could this be a winning combo?

Other deals that got my attention …

Fernride, a German self-driving trucks startup, extended its $31 million Series A to $50 million in funding. New investors include Munich Re’s venture capital arm Munich Re Ventures, Bavarian venture capital firm Bayern Kapital and former Siemens Klaus Kleinfeld, who will become chairman of the board at Fernride.

Joby Aviation landed $325 million in incentives and benefits as part of a deal to locate its first scaled electric aircraft factory in Dayton, Ohio. The company says it’s preparing to invest up to $500 million in the new site as it looks to start selling air taxi rides as soon as 2025.

Ola Electric, the Indian electric scooter maker, is considering an IPO.

Mottu, a Brazilian motorcycle rental company and last-mile delivery startup, raised $50 million in a Series C round co-led by QED Investors and Bicycle Capital. Endeavor Catalyst and Caravela also participated in the round.

Redwood Materials acquired Germany-based battery recycler Redux Recycling for an undisclosed amount.

ZeroAvia raised an undisclosed amount of capital in a round co-led by Airbus, Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital and NEOM. Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Horizons Ventures, Alaska Airlines, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, Summa Equity, AP Ventures and Amazon Climate Pledge Fund also participated in the investment.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have effectively banned self-driving trucks in California.

May Mobility secured a self-driving testing permit from the California DMV and announced its first deployment in the state expanding accessible transportation for essential medical care.

Robotaxis: the case for and against them via Bloomberg.

Waabi is committing billions of miles of driverless capacity to the Uber Freight network as part of a 10-year strategic partnership between the two companies. Waabi has launched commercial pilots with shippers on the Uber Freight network to haul goods between Dallas and Houston.

Electric vehicles, charging & batteries

The EV SPACs are running out of juice as some recent filings show. Alex Wilhelm and I try to answer how many squeezes are left?

The UAW strike continues and it’s even expanded to parts distribution centers (for GM and Stellantis). Rebecca Bellan writes about what the strike means for EVs.

Volvo’s last diesel car will roll off the line “by early 2024.” The company also promised that it’s “no longer spending a single krona of our R&D budget on developing new internal combustion engines” as it shifts towards EVs.

Gig economy

Lyft agreed to pay a $10 million fine to the SEC for failure to disclose a board member’s role in a pre-IPO share sale.

Uber’s latest effort to create product stickiness is to launch an AI assistant in the Uber Eats app that helps users find restaurant deals, easily reorder favorites and eventually meal plan, find sales on grocery items and order ingredients from recipes.

People

Helbiz is experiencing some executive shakeups. After five years as CFO, Giulio Profumo is stepping down to be replaced by Gian Luca Spriano.

Motional has brought on Sehyuk Park as chief strategy officer. Park brings more than 25 years of experience from Hyundai Motor Group.

Nikola, via its Hyla brand, has appointed Mary Chan as chief operating officer, effective October 9. GM and Dell alum was previously managing partner at VectoIQ, where she helped take Nikola public.

U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the personal benefits that Tesla may have provided its CEO Elon Musk since 2017 as part of a criminal probe that is also looking into the use of company funds to build a proposed glass house.

Startup Battlefield highlights

These are startups that made it into the Startup Battlefield 200 or were chosen as one of the select Battlefield 20 participants.

AquaLith replaces the need for nickel and cobalt in cathodes with raw materials that are much easier to access and process while still providing high energy density. Reporter Rita Liao digs into the tech.

Beyond Aero, a Toulouse, France–based startup, is building a hydrogen-powered business jet.

Flint, a startup out of Singapore that says it has come up with a way to replace the lithium in a battery with paper. Flint was a Startup Battlefield 20 participant.

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