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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.
Hello all! I'm back from the Chevy Blazer EV press drive and I have some thoughts! But you'll have to wait until later this week to read about it.
There is one important news item that was gleaned during the press drive by former TC contributor turned InsideEVs editor Patrick George that I wanted to point out to y'all. Remember how GM killed the Chevy Bolt and Bolt EUV and then a few months later was like "never mind!" we are going to bring it back under the new Ultium platform? OK, good. Well we now know that when it does come back it will only be the EUV. The smaller and original Bolt EV is done, dead, finito.
Which makes me wonder how this will eventually affect GM's subsidiary Cruise, which uses an autonomous version of the Bolt? That is, if Cruise returns to operations in 2024.
A couple more important items to share. I am a regular on the Equity podcast with TC+ editor Alex Wilhelm and senior reporter Mary Ann Azevedo. Listen to the latest episode here.
And finally, I am excited to share this: We hired Sean O'Kane as a senior reporter covering all things transportation. O'Kane hails from Bloomberg by way of The Verge and I can't gush enough about his investigative and storytelling skills. I will share his email next week once he officially starts. Please welcome him!
Reminder that you can drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you prefer to remain anonymous, click here to contact us, which includes SecureDrop (instructions here) and various encrypted messaging apps.
Deal of the week
Automakers love to talk about software-defined vehicles. That doesn't mean automakers, which are keen to bring sophisticated digital platforms into vehicles, have actually delivered on this software-defined future, however. One startup is cashing in on that demand.
Cubic Telecom, which developed a networking system to make it easy for vehicles (and other devices) to link up with mobile networks, picked up €473 million ($513 million) from SoftBank Corp. Under the deal, Softbank Corp. (not the Vision Fund or SoftBank Group) is taking a 51% stake in the Dublin-based startup, valuing it at just over €927 million ($1 billion). As editor Ingrid Lunden wrote, this effectively makes Cubic Telecom a consolidated subsidiary of SoftBank.
Barry Napier will stay on as CEO and will have a seat on the board of the company. Daichi Nozaki, SoftBank's SVP of global business, plus two other SoftBank-appointed people (still unnamed) will join the board, with the remaining three board seats occupied by existing Cubic Telecom investors, which include CARIAD (the Volkswagen Group) and Qualcomm.
One other fun note: Cubic Telecom participated in TechCrunch's first Startup Battlefield in 2007!
Other deals that got my attention this week ...
AM Batteries, the lithium-ion dry-electrode technology startup, raised $30 million in a Series B round led by Toyota Ventures. Other new investors include Porsche Ventures, Asahi Kasei, RA Capital Management - Planetary Health, Wilson Sonsini and Industry Ventures. Existing investors Anzu Partners, TDK Ventures, Creative Ventures, Doral Energy-Tech Ventures, Foothill Ventures and Zeon Ventures also participated.
Generac Power Systems made a minority investment in EV charging and energy management company Wallbox. The minority investment, which was not disclosed, includes adding a seat on Wallbox's board and a global commercial agreement to provide Generac's residential and commercial customers with the next generation of energy management systems.
Foretellix, which builds verification and validation solutions to test driver assistance and autonomous vehicle systems, raised $42 million to close out its Series C at $85 million. The full round was led by Israeli VC 83North, with Singapore's Temasek and Isuzu investing alongside Woven Capital (Toyota's venture fund), Nvidia, Artofin and previous backers MoreTech, Nationwide, Volvo Group VC, Jump Capital, Next Gear Ventures and OurCrowd. The first close of this Series C was in May of this year at $43 million.
Stuart, a Paris-based last-mile delivery platform founded in 2015, was acquired by Munich-based private equity holding company Mutares. Terms were not disclosed.
Notable reads and other tidbits
The Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Alliance for Automotive Innovation and others sent a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg imploring the agency to support the development of AVs or risk losing a competitive edge to China.
Cruise may face fines and sanctions after failing to disclose details of an October 2 incident -- specifically that one of its vehicles dragged a pedestrian 20 feet, according to a ruling from the California Public Utilities Commission. The agency ordered Cruise to appear at a February 6 hearing to defend itself against accusations.
Ganesh Venkataramanan, who led Tesla's Dojo supercomputer project the last five years, left the company. For the unfamiliar, the Dojo supercomputer is considered the critical technology behind its self-driving car efforts.
Kodiak Robotics showcased the autonomous vehicle born out of a $50 million two-year contract awarded by the U.S. Department of Defense, and more specifically the U.S. Army. You'd be wrong if you guessed it was a semi truck. Nope, it's a Ford F-150 pickup truck that the startup outfitted with its software and sensor stack. The DOD is using the vehicle to test autonomous surveillance and reconnaissance missions in off-road terrain, diverse operational conditions and GPS-challenged environments.
Torc Robotics and Uber Freight have formed a strategic partnership. Under the agreement, Torc will use data from Uber Freight's logistics network to help it hone the design of its autonomous freight network and expansion strategy, including learning which lanes are optimal for deployment, how to prioritize the rollout of lanes and various operational design domains and balancing supply and demand across supply chains with autonomous trucks.
There was a time when self-driving truck developer TuSimple garnered a lot of buzz — not to mention investment and partnerships. Those days are over, at least in the United States. The publicly traded company is laying off the majority of its U.S. workforce and selling assets here as it exits the country for Asia. About 150 U.S. workers, or 75% of staff in the country, will be laid off. The remaining 50 workers will wind down TuSimple's U.S. operations, including the sale of assets, and assist with the company's shift to the Asia-Pacific region.
Electric vehicles, charging & batteries
Scout, the VW Group spinoff aiming to launch EVs for North America, is still chugging along on development of a pickup truck and SUV. A few new details have emerged ahead of the debut that is supposed to occur in Q3 2024.
Stellantis partnered with battery swapping startup Ample to test the technology in the Fiat 500e city car. The two companies will start the first phase in Madrid, where 100 cars in Stellantis' Free2move car-sharing service will be retrofitted to accept Ample's modular batteries. TC reporter Tim de Chant muses that battery swapping could work well in fleets, but wonders if consumers are ready for the tech.
Speaking of the Fiat 500e, that diminutive EV will hit North American showrooms during the first quarter of 2024, starting with a Product Red model, in collaboration with the AIDS-fighting group co-founded by U2's Bono. TC reporter Harri Weber calls the Fiat 500e the anti-Cybertruck. Will Americans buy it?
One more Stellantis item. The automaker will temporarily cut one shift at its Detroit assembly plant that builds Jeep sport utility vehicles because of California emissions regulations. What's the connection? Stellantis sent a petition opposing the California Framework Agreement, which was formed in 2019 with four automakers (BMW, Ford, Honda and Volkswagen). Stellantis argues that framework companies can use its total EV sales volume to comply with the state's emissions rules while other OEMs may only use the sales volumes generated in states adhering to CARB rules. This has led Stellantis, which includes the Jeep brand, to have excessive plug-in hybrid inventories in California. Hence, a cutback in production.
Tesla’s lowest-priced vehicle, the rear-wheel-drive Model 3, won’t be eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit as of next year. Tesla isn't alone in losing the full tax credit; the Ford Mustang Mach-E is not expected to qualify for the tax credit starting January 1.
In other Tesla news, the automaker's battle with Nordic unions is expanding from Sweden to Norway.