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The Station: Jeep's road to EVs, Musk's great big distraction and a last call for mobility founders

·12-min read

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

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

I headed out to Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah last weekend and spent a couple of days driving a variety of Jeep concepts, including the battery-electric Magneto 2.0 and several 4xe variants. The message from Christian Meunier, the global head of Jeep, was all about marrying the past — and the adventure and freedom that has historically been part of the brand — with an electric future.

And yet, just days later the company would unveil the long-wheelbase versions of three-row SUVs Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, at the New York Auto Show. The Grand Wagoneer L, which has a fuel tank that can hold four more gallons of gas and gets something like 16 miles a gallon city and highway combined, couldn't seem further away from the concepts and messaging I experienced in Moab.

From my view, these seemingly disparate events seem to illustrate Stellantis' strategy: to use the typically large profit margins for the luxury SUV category to fund its electrification pursuits. Stellantis isn't alone either. EVs may have taken center stage at the auto show, but there were plenty of gas chugging SUVs on display as well.

It also was clear to me that while Jeep sees promise and profits via electrification, it also has some catching up to do. The Jeep folks I spoke to seem determined to get there. And why not? The Jeep Wrangler 4xe outsold all other plug-in hybrids in the U.S. in the first quarter and accounted for 18% of Wrangler sales; that's the kind of figure that spurs action.

The agenda is out for TC Sessions: Mobility 2022. I think we put together a pretty sweet program and there will be a couple of more announcements to come.

Last call for mobility startup founders! Come pitch your startup at TC Sessions: Mobility 2022.

Here's a link with all the information you need to apply. In addition to the opportunity to pitch, you'll get training with TC's Startup Battlefield Editor, two complimentary passes to the entire TC Sessions: Mobility event and an invitation to showcase on the Disrupt San Francisco 2022 show floor. The deadline to apply is April 21, which is in just a few days.

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 Kirsten at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin'

Rising gas prices, further fueled by the war in Ukraine, continue to cause pain at the pump. Perhaps some good will come of these spiking prices, like pushing more people into the supportive metal arms of micromobility vehicles.

You’ve probably heard enough stats about how commuters are driving less, but what’s one more?

Superpedestrian says its ridership was up 360% in March, year-over-year, and that half of its customers decided to scoot instead of drive because they wanted to avoid overpaying for gas.

While we’re on the subject of Superpedestrian, the company, along with Lime and Spin, will be hitting the streets of Chicago for the city’s new two-year e-scooter pilot. Starting in May, each operator will have 3,000 scooters on the roads. Divvy, the city’s bike-sharing system, will also be expanded to include dockable scooters from Lyft.

At the New York International Auto Show, Veo showcased its new Cosmo 2, its seated e-scooter, that will feature safety and accessibility features like a built-in audible electric motor noise to alert nearby pedestrians, bright underdeck lighting and turn signals, a nicer seat cushion and more. The Cosmo 2 will also have a phone holder, a Bluetooth speaker that syncs with smartphones and a basket with bungee cords.

Tier is bringing its next-gen scooter to London this month. The scooter will feature more Tier coloring to make it easier to identify, as well as a brighter light, upgraded indicators, three independent brakes, grippy handlebars and larger tires.

Japanese company Luup has raised $8 million in debt and asset financing to expand its e-bike and e-scooter service across the country.

Consumer micromobility vehicles

Bosch eBike Systems is updating its smart system with networked navigation accessible through the eBike Flow app and additional e-bike theft protection via a bike lock that turns a smartphone into a digital key. Bosch is also teaming up with BCycle, a national bike-share system, to offer free e-bike rideshare access in eight cities across the U.S. from April 22 to April 24. If you live in Madison, Wisconsin, Santa Barbara, California, Broward, San Antonio, Boulder, Colorado, Encinitas, California, Nashville or Greenville, South Carolina, check it out!

A couple of Dutch twins are on a mission to bring bike production back to the Netherlands and build an e-bike with exclusively European parts, and they’re getting close. Mokumono announced its newest bike, the Polder, which already contains 90% European parts.

Okai, the company that’s supplied e-scooters for many shared operators, has launched its first consumer e-bike.

Foldable e-bike maker Fiido is recalling two models because, well, they fold too much. Actually, they can snap in two.

Rad Power Bikes is feeling the strain of rising costs of production. The company is rejigging a bit by closing down its Rad Mobile stores and putting those resources back into online shopping and opening more retail stores.

When cities do cool stuff …

Berlin is making plans for a new high-speed bicycle route from Honow to Spandau through the city center. The city says bikes should be able to reach their destination as quickly as cars on the new route.

Oakland is running a Universal Basic Mobility program that gave people prepaid cards to purchase trips from dockless scooters, bikeshare and public transit. A mid-program survey found 40% of participants saying they changed how they travel, with 23% saying they drove alone less often.

Shanghai is undergoing one of the strictest lockdowns ever, but grocery delivery workers on mopeds are keeping the city fed.

Onomotion, a Berlin-based company that makes very cool covered e-cargo bikes, is partnering with UPS to expand its sustainable parcel delivery service in Hamburg and Cologne.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station
money the station

Can we even talk about deals this week without mentioning Elon Musk's bid for Twitter — and the chaos that has since ensued? Sure, sure ... Twitter is not a transportation company. But over here in mobility land, I do see this attempt to buy Twitter as a potential impactful moment for Tesla and SpaceX. (You can read all of our coverage on Musk's offer, his comments at a TED conference and what this might mean for Twitter.)

And I'm not alone. Yishan Wong, an entrepreneur who was CEO of Reddit between 2012 and 2014, had a very long and insightful thread on Twitter. You can read that here. One of the points he eventually makes, and one I am prone to agree with, is that this is a gigantic distraction that will negatively affect Tesla and SpaceX.

I promise this saga is not over yet, and while I won't be writing about Twitter, I will be following Musk's actions, because the fates of Tesla and SpaceX are so closely tied, and even intertwined.

Other deals that got my attention this week ...

Charge Amps, a Swedish developer of charging products for electric vehicles, is slowly rolling out its plans for an initial public offering, Bloomberg reported. Volatile markets prompted execs at Charge Amps to pause plans, although the company is still aiming for an IPO this year.

Gotion High-Tech Co., the Chinese battery maker, is considering selling global depositary receipts in Switzerland to raise about 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion), Bloomberg reported.

Nodar, a company that developed long-range, high-resolution, real-time camera-based software, raised $12 million in Series A funding led by global venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates, with participation from existing investor Rhapsody Venture Partners.

Rand McNally acquired Australia-based Fleetsu in a move the company said would "elevate its place in the connected vehicle space." Financial terms were not disclosed.

Rapido, the bike taxi startup, raised $180 million in a financing round led by Indian food delivery giant Swiggy. Rapido’s Series D financing round also saw participation from TVS Motor Company and existing investors Westbridge, Shell Ventures and Nexus Ventures. The new round values Rapido at more than $800 million.

RoadSafe Traffic Systems, a traffic control and pavement marking services company, acquired North Valley Barricade. NVB retails traffic control products and other construction safety goods throughout the northern California region. This is the sixth acquisition by RoadSafe in the past 12 months.

Uber Freight and Transplace will combine their businesses during the fourth quarter of 2022 and drop the 22-year-old Transplace name, FreightWaves reported.

VINN Automotive Technologies, a new online used car marketplace that works with local dealers, raised $15.5 million in a Series A round led by Inovia Capital with the participation from Wndr Co, Garage Capital, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Roach Capital. VINN has raised $20 million to date.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Cruise, the self-driving car unit of General Motors, expanded its autonomous delivery pilot with Walmart in Arizona. The company will now be doing limited deliveries for customers in Chandler, another Phoenix suburb and where Waymo is active, in addition to Scottsdale.

Electric vehicles and batteries

The California Air Resources Board has proposed a rule that would require 35% of new passenger vehicles sold in the state by 2026 to be powered by batteries or hydrogen. The state has quite a gap to bridge to meet that goal. About 12.4% of new vehicles sold in California are zero-emissions, according to the board.

Faraday Future, the troubled EV startup turned publicly traded company, has taken more disciplinary action as part of its now concluded internal investigation, including removing founder and former CEO Yueting Jia as an executive officer.

Honda Motor Co. will launch 30 EV models by 2030, with a production volume of more than 2 million vehicles a year. The Japanese automaker said it will spend $40 billion (5 trillion yen) on electrification over the next decade to build its own electrification architecture and explore new growth opportunities in space exploration, eVTOL, avatar robots and more. *Startup founders, you might find this part interesting: Honda will also put an additional $80 million (10 billion yen) per year toward startups that could help the automaker expand its business and shift from selling products alone to offering combined solutions.

Lucid Group launched a high-performance companion to its long-awaited Lucid Air luxury sedan: a 1,050-horsepower grand tourer version with a 446-mile range.

Techcrunch reporter Jaclyn Trop digs into why the blank-check boom that made real many electric vehicle manufacturers’ dreams of going public is nearing a close. (TC+ sub required)

Toyota bz4X is a "solidly middling" EV, according to a review by TechCrunch freelancer Abigail Bassett, who is also a World Car juror.

VinFast revealed battery subscription prices for the two electric SUVs it aims to sell in the U.S. market by the end of the year. This leasing model is interesting to me, but I have a lot more digging to do before I determine if this is a win for consumers or the company.

Tesla owners in California who want to save money at the company’s branded Superchargers will have to wait until 9 p.m. to power up their battery. Extending the peak-hour charging time by two hours seems like an effort to offset costs and manage the increasingly crowded Supercharger network.

In-car tech

A federal judge has postponed (again) a decision on a lawsuit filed by automakers represented by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation over updates to Massachusetts' right-to-repair law. The law has big implications for automakers and consumers. The judge expects to issue a ruling no later than July 1.

LanzaTech, a Chicago-based carbon capture startup that has TechCrunch followed for a few years now, is working with Bridgestone to recycle end-of-life tires by taking old tires and creating new ones. LanzaTech said it's developed carbon capture and gas fermentation technology that can break down the old rubber to make new rubber.

New York International Auto Show

Chrysler introduced an "alter ego" version of its Airflow Graphite Concept SUV, an all-electric crossover with 22-inch wheels, a sleek silhouette and automated driving features that gives a possible window to the automaker’s future.

Electric vehicles took center stage at the New York International Auto Show this year, with an indoor track as part of the show’s 250,000-square-foot EV display, leaving no doubt that EVs are part of the mainstream — at least on the auto show circuit. Here are 10 EVs that stood out to us.

EVs didn't just have the spotlight, they also swept the World Car Awards presented at the New York Auto Show this week.

Mercedes-Benz brought to the New York International Auto Show its Vision EQXX concept, freshly returned from a European road trip where it traveled 621 miles on a fully charged battery. We described this as a direct and perhaps theoretical challenge to Tesla, since this is just a concept. The EQXX does show what Mercedes is capable of.

People

Hyzon Motors hired Samuel Chong as CFO. Chong will succeed Mark Gordon, who has served as Hyzon's CFO since August 2020.

Rivian hired Anisa Kamadoli Costa as the company's chief sustainability officer. Kamadoli Costa held the same position at Tiffany & Co. She was also chairman and president of the Tiffany & Co. Foundation.

Volta has appointed Brandt Hastings, who has held the position of chief revenue officer, as interim CEO, effective immediately. Hastings will also retain his title as Volta's CRO. The appointment follows Scott Mercer's decision to step down as chairman and CEO of Volta last month. The board said it has commenced a formal search for a permanent CEO.

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