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Mobileye cruises into the public market and inside the Argo AI collapse

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive the full edition of the newsletter every weekend in your inbox. This is a shorter version of The Station newsletter that is emailed to subscribers. Want all the deals, news roundups and commentary? Subscribe for free

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. 

Welp, that was a week! My head is still spinning over here what with Mobileye going public, Argo shutting down and Elon Musk taking the reins at Twitter. Yes, there's a transportation angle to Twitter beyond the less-than-happy reaction of Tesla shareholders. (GM temporarily paused paid advertising on Twitter, following Musk's takeover.)

Let's just jump right in, shall we?

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

Micromobbin'

the station scooter1a
the station scooter1a

The California state legislature recently passed AB 371, the so-called “Kill Bikeshare Bill,” which puts extreme insurance requirements on shared micromobility companies beyond what’s required of private car owners or rental car companies. It makes the companies liable for the behavior of anyone using their service, and will likely lead to many companies pulling out.

Citi Bike has a “Bike Angel” program that incentivizes people (with money!) to rebalance e-bike inventories at docking stations across NYC.

San Francisco is restricting shared e-scooters from parking in certain tourist zones, specifically a large stretch of the Embarcadero and a popular street in Fisherman’s Wharf. The move comes as the SFMTA is under pressure to issue more hardline enforcement of sidewalk riding.

Tesla Cyberquad for Kids, a $1,900 mini ATV made by Radio Flyer, is being recalled due to safety concerns. About 5,000 units have been sold.

You’re reading an abbreviated version of Micromobbin’. Subscribe for free to the newsletter and you’ll get a lot more.

Inside the Argo AI shutdown

Argo AI Driverless gif
Argo AI Driverless gif

Image Credits: Argo AI

The sudden shuttering of autonomous vehicle company Argo AI was received like a bucket of ice-cold water being dumped on one's head. Sure, the autonomous vehicle industry is still frontier tech that is years, even decades, away from becoming a product used daily by most consumers. Profits, hell even revenue, are distant goals.

And yet, Argo's demise did feel unexpected, largely because it had deep-pocketed backers like Ford and VW ($2 billion in cash and $1.6 billion in value of taking over VW's Autonomous Intelligent Driving subsidiary), several high-profile partners with active pilot programs, a large workforce of top talent and a presence in multiple cities.

The work culture wasn't toxic, based on accounts from numerous insiders at different levels of the startup. It was a company widely respected and considered one of a handful of companies poised with the talent, backing and tech to actually pull off the commercialization of AVs.

So why did Argo die? Did the founders or its backers make some fatal flaw along the way? Or is it a larger systemic problem with the technology itself?

As I learn more about this (and I continue to dig), it seems it is a combination of a few factors, including Ford and VW deciding to prioritize near-term profits gleaned from advanced driver assistance systems over a still-in-the-works technology for which neither company had actually figured out a business model (or at least one guaranteed to be profitable).

Argo apparently was able to find some new backers (Ford said in its earnings call that Argo couldn't find fresh outside investment). But finding capital wasn't the only problem. The terms of any new investor would have to be agreed upon by Ford and VW. I have received varying accounts on the health of that relationship.

TechCrunch editor Darrell Etherington makes the argument that this proves self-driving cars are not coming anytime soon. Cruise co-founder Kyle Vogt responded with some light trolling on Twitter.

Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson also piped up with an AV-industry-is-not-doomed message. "This is not a signal that a future with self-driving technology isn't real or imminent. In fact, it's quite the opposite," he wrote, noting Waymo's expansion of a robotaxi fleet to LA and Cruise charging for driverless rides in San Francisco. Urmson also provided an update on Aurora's focus on self-driving trucks.

I don't believe the AV industry is dead. I do see — and have for two years now — consolidation, tightening capital markets and a shift in priorities from automakers, which were once some of the biggest cheerleaders and backers of AVs. That makes a tough road even bumpier. And for now, that shuts out a lot of startups.

It would be a bit simplistic to say "it's the profits, stupid." But that's not entirely wrong, either.

What do you, dear reader, think?

Deal of the week

the station scooter1a
the station scooter1a

On the day the Argo AI news dropped, Mobileye made its official debut. The success of the IPO — the third largest this year — was seen by many as a validation of Ford and VW's decision to shut down Argo. The takeaway was that advanced driver assistance systems, not AV tech, is the real future (at least in terms of revenue and profits).

Mobileye was able to price 41 million shares at $21 and above its initial range, raising $861 million. General Atlantic agreed to buy an additional $100 million of shares in a private placement. Investors seemed ready to pile in and helped shares pop and close nearly 30% above the IPO price.

I spoke to Mobileye founder and CEO Amnon Shashua on the big day. (Look for a longer piece this week.)

A couple of quick takeaways from Dr. Shashua:

"Things have changed and became more and more nuanced. You know, five years ago we'd be talking about driving assist and then robotaxis as kind of two separate domains. We gradually built a product portfolio that bridges the spectrum between driving assist and robotaxis."

That bridge, a technology called Mobileye Supervision, is the critical foundation of the company's future. This technology isn't looming in the distant future either. The system, which includes 11 cameras around the car that feeds data into Mobileye's system on chips, is on 50,000 vehicles in China. Shashua told me they started in China because the country is "more tech forward and is moving faster than anyone else."

Other deals that got my attention ...

AM Batteries, a Boston-based company that has developed lithium-ion dry-electrode technology, raised $25 million in a Series A round led by Anzu Partners. TDK Ventures, Foothill Ventures, Toyota Ventures, Zeon Ventures, SAIC Capital, VinFast, Doral Energy-Tech Ventures and Creative Ventures also participated.

Ascend Elements, the lithium-ion battery recycling company, secured $300 million in equity and debt financing, including $200 million in a Series C equity round led by Fifth Wall Climate and joined by SK ecoplant.

Beam, a Singaporean shared micromobility operator, raised $93 million in a Series B round led by Affirma Capital with participation from Sequoia Capital India, Hana Ventures, ICT Capital, EDB Investment, AC Ventures, RTP Global and Momentum Venture Capital.

BMW iVentures led a $20 million investment round for Fox Robotics, an Austin, Texas-based autonomous forklift maker. Japan Airlines, Translink Innovation Fund, Foothill Ventures, Zebra Technologies along with Menlo Ventures, ENIAC Ventures and SignalFire also participated.

Helbiz’s deal to buy Wheels went through, and with it promises to double annual revenue and reach profitability in the next couple of years. Investors weren’t impressed, though, and the company’s stock is still languishing. If Helbiz can’t get its stock up, it might get kicked off the Nasdaq.

Ionblox, a lithium-ion cell company previously known as Zenlabs Energy, raised $24 million in a Series B round with investment from all-electric vertical take-off and landing jet developer Lilium, Applied Ventures, LLC and Catalus Capital.

Want more deals? A whole list of them were in the subscription version this week. Subscribe for free here. 

Notable news and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Andrej Karpathy, Tesla's former director of AI, is interviewed by Lex Friedman.

Cruise, GM's autonomous vehicle subsidiary, has opened up a waitlist for a robotaxi service in Phoenix and Austin.

XPeng said its G9 SUV became China's first mass-produced commercial vehicle to pass a government-led autonomous driving closed-field test.

Electric vehicles, batteries & charging

Bosch started production of electric motors at its Charleston, South Carolina manufacturing facility and announced plans to invest more than $260 million to expand production there.

Wallbox has opened its first North American factory in Arlington, Texas to begin building EV charging and management solutions stateside.

Ride-hailing

Lyft relaunched its monthly subscription plan Lyft Pink at half of its previous price. At $9.99 per month or $99 per year, the new membership offers perks like free priority pickups and a discount of "at least" 5% on Preferred, Lux and XL rides.

Uber is releasing a suite of new safety features geared toward the driver, including freezing fake rider account names and piloting a front-facing video recording tool to replace a driver's dashcam.

People

Czinger Vehicles hired former Tesla and Faraday Future veteran Dag Reckhorn as its chief manufacturing officer.

Jaguar Land Rover's InMotion hired Mike Smeed as managing director. Smeed was previously at Chery Jaguar Land Rover, a Shanghai-based joint venture between JLR and Chinese carmaker Chery Automobile.

Mullen Automotive hired former General Motors executive John Schwegman as its chief commercial officer.

Want to read more of the notable reads plus other bits of news from the week? The Station’s weekly emailed newsletter has a lot more on EVs and AVs, future of flight, insider info and more. Click here and then check “The Station” to receive the full edition of the newsletter every weekend in your inbox.