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Zeekr goes on a hiring spree, Tesla kicks off a price war and Hesai files for an IPO

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. 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. 

Before I jump into our regular news roundup, I wanted to bring your attention to Zeekr, the premium electric car brand owned by China's Geely Holdings. You might recall that about a month ago, Zeekr filed confidentially for an initial public offering in the United States. Zeekr, which will spin out of Geely, reportedly aims to raise more than $1 billion and is seeking a valuation of more than $10 billion, according to initial reports by Reuters.

As the IPO process creeps forward, Zeekr is busy scaling up. And in a big way. Zeekr already employs some 4,500 people, according to the company. Now it's aiming to add two-thirds more workers to its roster.

The company posted on WeChat this week that it is hiring 3,000 new workers in more than 30 cities around the world, including for its R&D center in Ningbo and Shanghai in China, and Gothenburg, Sweden. It's also opening an office in Silicon Valley, although it should be noted an exact location has yet to be decided.

Most of these posts are for R&D and engineering in areas like software, battery management, thermal management and electric/electronic architecture. A few hundred are for its sales network, according to the company.

Zeekr is not even two years old yet. Prepare to start hearing a lot more from this brand.

Last week, you may recall I wrote about how Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk had entered into a pressure cooker, of sorts.

That pressure continues to build as we get new insight into an infamous 2016 "Painted In Black" video that promoted Tesla's claimed "self-driving" technology. A senior engineer testified that the video was faked and apparently Musk oversaw the direction of the video, even dictating the words that pop up at the start of the video saying the car is driving itself. The video has been criticized for years now, so for many this will come as no surprise and validates their stance.

Question is, can consumers or shareholders argue (in a court perhaps) that they were defrauded by a video that convinced them Tesla's self-driving technology was more capable than it actually was?

Meanwhile, Tesla slashing its prices earlier this month appears to have kicked off a price war with rivals like China's Xpeng reducing the cost of its EVs. Tesla has one weapon that other automakers lack: one of the highest profit margins in the biz.

Tesla earned $15,653 in gross profit per vehicle in the third quarter of 2022; that's more than twice as much as Volkswagen Group, four times the comparable figure at Toyota and five times more than Ford Motor, according to a Reuters analysis.

Price wars don't always work out. But high profit margins buy Tesla some time.

Oh, and against that backdrop, a trial is underway in San Francisco to answer the question of whether Musk is a fraud or is just too careless with his words. Under the microscope was Musk’s notorious 2018 tweet that stated funding was “secured” to take Tesla private at a potential value of $420 per share. Tesla shareholders who traded the company’s stock in the days after Musk’s tweet are suing the executive for billions of dollars in damages.

You can drop us a note at tips@techcrunch.com. If you prefer to remain anonymous, click here to contact us, which includes SecureDrop (instructions here) and various encrypted messaging apps.

Micromobbin'

the station scooter1a
the station scooter1a

The folks over at Micromobility Industries held their online Micromobility World event this week, with top speakers including Kara Swisher, Gabe Klein and Matthew Yglesias. I listened to Yglesias discuss how important land use reform is for micromobility adoption. 

As communities grow and new housing is added, more cars will inevitably join the roads, which will exacerbate current traffic problems. Yglesias says new housing policy has to go hand in hand with transportation initiatives to offer solutions and make it easier for residents to bike or scoot to where they need to go. 

“That just means taking geometry seriously and so, if everybody all the time is carting empty space with them wherever they go, we don't fit and we become this very sort of pessimistic, zero-sum, oh-my-god-don't-let-them-build kind of people, which is a bummer,” said Yglesias.

In other news…

Beyond (formerly Brooklyness), the Brooklyn-based e-scooter subscription and retail company, is shutting down. “We had a fantastic run, but ultimately, delays in the supply chain and the overall macroeconomic climate made it impossible for us to secure more funding to grow the business,” wrote founder Manuel Saez in an email blast. 

Gogoro is working with the Indian state of Maharashtra to establish state-wide battery charging and swapping infrastructure as part of a deal valued at $2.5 billion.

Helbiz is leaving unprofitable markets by spring 2023, but is also actively seeking new markets to enter that might be more sustainable. 

Didn’t know this was a thing, but apparently in Japan, e-scooter riders in Japan needed a driver’s license to ride the vehicles. Starting this July, riders on stand-up e-scooters that have a max speed of 20 kph will no longer need a license, but they’ll need to comply with the same rules as cyclists. 

Check out this podcast from The New Republic on the high cost of cheap e-bikes, where they discuss the fires caused by poorly made lithium batteries, the populations most at risk, the challenges of regulating e-bikes and the consequences of our on-demand culture.

Parisians are voting this weekend on whether they want to ban free-floating e-scooters or not. At stake in the short-term is the renewal of permits for Lime, Dott and Tier. But in the long-term, Paris’s decision might affect how other cities deal with shared e-scooters.

Ride1Up launched the Revv1 e-bike, a moped-style bike that can reach 20 mph on throttle or pedal assist. The bike starts at $1,899 for the front suspension version and $2,399 for the full-suspension model.

A Washington, D.C. council member has proposed a $400+ rebate for e-bikes. 

Deal of the week

money the station
money the station

This didn't get a lot of press attention in the United States, but it should have. Hesai, a Chinese lidar company widely considered a lead supplier of the sensor, filed for a $100 million IPO and plans to list on the Nasdaq exchange.

Hesai has attracted a lot of venture capital in its lifetime, raising more than $500 million to date from strategic backers like Baidu, Xiaomi on-demand services giant Meituan and CPE, the private equity platform of Citic as well as VC firms GL Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Qiming Venture Partners.

I wrote about Hesai as part of a larger piece on the lidar industry and how there are still TOO MANY companies. The upshot? A lot of lidar companies will be sifted out in 2023; the following year will be a "make it or break it" moment for those that remain.

While Hesai is in a leadership position today, that doesn't mean it will remain there. And it's not yet profitable. It should be noted that unlike many other lidar companies out there, Hesai is actually producing and shipping sensors and generates revenue. The company reported in a securities filing that it brought in $112 million in revenue in the first nine months of the year and had a net loss of $23 million during the same period.

Other deals that got my attention ...

Black Sesame Technologies, a developer of AI chips and systems for vehicles, is considering a Hong Kong initial public offering, Bloomberg reported.

MacroFab, a cloud manufacturing platform for building electronics from prototype to high-scale production, raised $42 million in a round led by Foundry and joined by BMW i Ventures, as well as existing investors Edison Partners and ATX Venture Partners.

Outrider, a Golden, Colorado startup developing autonomous electric yard trucks, closed a $73 million Series C round led by FM Capital and attracted new investors Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Nvidia’s venture capital group, NVentures. Other new investors included B37 Ventures, Lineage Ventures, Presidio Ventures, the venture arm of Sumitomo Corporation and ROBO Global Ventures. Existing backers Koch Disruptive Technologies and New Enterprise Associates also participated.

Volta, the EV charging network operator, will be acquired by a U.S.-based subsidiary of oil company Shell for $169 million.

Waabi, the Toronto-based self-driving trucks startup, landed Volvo Group Venture Capital AB as a strategic investor. The companies didn't disclose the amount invested, nor many other details about the deal. Waabi contends that having Volvo on board will both provide it with access to the automaker's extensive industry network and help it explore opportunities for large-scale commercialization.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Aurora put out its forecast for the AV industry and among its top takeaways (this coming from the CFO) is this nugget: "Independent AV companies will be positioned to advance more quickly toward product deployment and profitability."

Electric vehicles, charging & batteries

Blink Charging announced an exclusive agreement with Mitsubishi Motors North America to provide Bling chargers and installation service for all of the manufacturer’s dealerships. 

Chevrolet unveiled its 2024 Corvette E-Ray, the first semi-electric version of the iconic sports car. The E-Ray has a small 6.2L V8 and an electric motor. It charges the battery through regenerative braking and when the vehicle is coasting. 

EVgo launched EVgo ReNew, a maintenance program designed to make sure that when you finally find that public charging station you so desperately need, you’re not met with multiple broken charge ports. 

Hertz is launching a public-private partnership initiative, Hertz Electrifies, in Denver to bring 5,200 rental EVs to the city, increase charging capacity at the airport and Hertz locations, support the installation of public EV chargers and more. The company is hoping to mirror this partnership model with other cities in the future.

Kate is a new micro EV car company that clearly was inspired by the mini Moke.

Revel is adding five new EV fast charging hubs to New York City, adding a total of 136 public charging stalls to the city’s landscape. 

People

Joby Aviation appointed Lt. Gen. (ret.) Scott Howell, former Commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), to the company's Advisory Board.

Kodiak Robotics has named former USA Truck CEO James Reed as its chief operating officer.

TuSimple appointed independent board members James Lu and Wendy Hayes to serve on its government security committee after receiving a non-objection from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

Wisk Aero CEO Gary Gysin is retiring from his position. He is also leaving the board effective February 1, 2023. Dr. Brian Yutko will be the new CEO. Yutko was most recently vice president and chief engineer of sustainability and future mobility at Boeing.

Ride-hail

Didi has gotten approval from China to re-launch its ride-hailing service after an 18-month probe from the country’s cyberspace watchdog. The Cybersecurity Review Office was investigating whether Didi’s cross-border data practices were secure before going public in the U.S. 

Authorities in Tanzania have increased the fee that ride-hail companies like Uber and Bolt can charge drivers, from 15% to 25%. Nice for the companies’ earnings, but bad news for the earnings of the drivers. 

Uber has expanded an agreement with Hertz to get up to 25,000 EVs to ride-hail drivers in European capital cities by 2025. Separately, in its race to electrify, the company is also in talks with automakers to build EVs that sacrifice speed, and even a wheel or two, to drive down sticker price.