Home Technology Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

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Welcome back to TechCrunch Mobility — your central hub for news and insights on the future of transportation. Sign up here for free — just click TechCrunch Mobility!

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation, including tariffs on Chinese EVs, an escalating Tesla strike in Sweden, a federal investigation into Waymo, a buzzy EV IPO, executive shuffling at Ford, and an Uber shuttle service developed for commuters in India and Egypt that has been adapted for American concertgoers. 

Let’s go!

A little bird

blinky cat bird green
Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

We heard from a few little birds this week. 

First up, here’s a deep cut for all those autonomous vehicle nerds. Remember Roborace, the autonomous vehicle racing series that never was? As you might recall, it died in 2022, but founder Denis Sverdlov (who also founded the now-defunct EV startup Arrival) had talked about trying to revive it if more funds were secured. It seems those dreams have died. One little bird spotted that the roborace.com domain is up for sale. 

Meanwhile, we continue to talk to little birds about the autonomous vehicle company Motional. As you might recall, the autonomous vehicle startup received a direct investment of $475 million from Hyundai. That money came with some strings, namely some belt tightening that included pausing all commercial operations. Our latest scoop, thanks to several insiders, is that more than 550 employees, or about 40% of its workforce, have been laid off from Motional. While many of those were in commercial operations, the cuts affected other departments, including product, safety, cybersecurity and legal teams.

Got a tip for us? Email Kirsten Korosec at [email protected], Sean O’Kane at [email protected] or Rebecca Bellan at [email protected]. Or check out these instructions to learn how to contact us via encrypted messaging apps or SecureDrop.

Deals!

money the station
Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

A trade war with China may be heating up and EV demand may be softening, but it’s apparently not enough to discourage Zeekr investors!

Zeekr Intelligent Technology Holding, the Chinese EV brand under China’s Geely Holdings, sold 21 million shares at $21 per share to raise $441 million, an upsize from earlier plans to sell 17.5 million shares between $18 and $21. Shares popped 38% on Zeekr’s first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange, giving it a valuation of $7 billion — and the capital it needs to expand outside China in 2024.

Shares have settled a bit since, but Zeekr is still holding onto a $6.6 billion market cap. That’s surprising stability considering President Joe Biden released plans to increase tariffs on imports of Chinese EVs from 25% to 100% in 2024.

Other deals that got my attention …

Kyle Vogt, the founder and former CEO of Cruise, has a new VC-backed robotics startup focused on household chores called the Bot Company. Reminder: Vogt resigned from Cruise in November just weeks after one of the company’s robotaxis hit and dragged a pedestrian. But investors still seem keen to back Vogt and his ideas. Sidebar: Comma.ai founder and firebrand George Hotz didn’t seem too pleased

Vogt, who co-founded the Bot Company with former Tesla AI tech team leader Paril Jain and an ex-Cruise software engineer Luke Holoubek, raised $150 million from former GitHub CEO and investor Nat Friedman, Pioneer founder and investor Daniel Gross, Spark Capital general partner Nabeel Hyatt, Stripe CEO Patrick Collison, Stripe co-founder John Collison and Quiet Capital. 

Li Industries, a Pineville, North Carolina, lithium-ion battery recycling startup, raised $36 million in a Series B funding round co-led by Bosch Ventures, Khosla Ventures and LG Tech Ventures. Other new investors included Formosa Smart Energy Tech Corp., Anglo American Decarbonization Ventures and Chevron Technology Ventures coming in as new investors. Previous backers Shell Ventures and Myriad Ventures also joined. 

Magic Lane, the Amsterdam-based startup that developed software development kits to bring mapping, location and navigation into ride-hailing apps, micromobility and vehicles, raised €3 million ($3.26 million). The round was led by No Such Ventures.

Orange Charger, a startup that sells landlords a 240-volt smart outlet among other products, has raised $6.5 million in a seed round led by Munich Re Ventures and Climactic with participation by Baukunst, Crow Holdings, Lincoln Property Ventures, and Spacecadet Ventures.

Uber agreed to buy Foodpanda — the Taiwan unit of Delivery Hero — for $950 million in cash. As part of the deal, Uber will take a stake in Delivery Hero through the purchase of $300 million newly issued ordinary shares.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Cruise has reportedly reached a settlement between $8 million and $12 million with the pedestrian who was hit and then dragged by one of its robotaxis. TechCrunch has confirmed that range. 

Meanwhile, Cruise is ramping up robotaxi testing in Phoenix with “supervised” autonomous driving. 

Waymo’s autonomous vehicle software is under investigation after federal regulators received 22 reports of the robotaxis crashing or potentially violating traffic safety laws by driving in the wrong lane or into construction zones.

Electric vehicles, charging & batteries

Fisker has the attention of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration once again. The federal agency opened a fourth investigation into the Fisker Ocean SUV, this time to probe multiple claims of “inadvertent Automatic Emergency Braking.”

Tesla isn’t done cutting jobs. CEO Elon Musk said in April that the company would lay off more than 10% of its 140,000-person workforce. We’ve seen several waves since then that suggest the cuts have gone beyond that initial target. There have been reports that Musk wanted to cut 20% of employees. The latest is 601 workers at Tesla facilities in California, according to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) notice. 

By the way, remember when Musk axed the entire Supercharger team? Reporter Tim De Chant got an inside look into the Tesla Supercharger team, including that it was indeed profitable. Since his article was published, Musk has reportedly started hiring some of that team back. 

This week’s wheels

mercedes esprinter
Image Credits: Kirsten Korosec

The 2024 Mercedes-Benz eSprinter is more than just a giant all-electric cargo van. Although as you can see in this photo, it is a big-un. I only had a few days behind the wheel, but it was enough to learn it maneuvered easily in traffic — in spite of its size. The van has quite a bit of tech packed inside and starts at $71,866. 

There is a bit too much to list, so here are just a few important bits. First up, the range from the 113-kilowatt hour battery (per the European WLTP cycle) is supposed to be 273 miles, which is considerably more than the 159-mile range on the Ford E-transit van.

The interior layout puts function first and the infotainment system clearly displays the information a commercial driver might need, and can be accessed by voice or the steering wheel. There are EV-specific features as well, including a navigation setting that calculates an optimized route, including charging stops in real time depending on the current traffic situation and topography of the route.

While the towing capacity is less than its diesel counterpart, there was plenty of upside to the EV van, notably its drivability. 

One note about the regenerative braking that took some getting used to. There are five selectable recuperation levels to choose from (D-, D, D+, D++ and ‘D Auto’), all of which can be adjusted with the paddles on either side of the steering wheel. D Auto is conceptually great. That setting automatically determines when to apply the brake based on the traffic situation and adjusts accordingly. I found that it was easy to use but would unexpectedly hit the brakes if a vehicle, far ahead of me, would come into my lane.



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