The Station: Autonowashing floodwaters are rising, driving the Kia EV6, and Cruise unlocks more Softbank cash

The Station: Autonowashing floodwaters are rising, driving the Kia EV6, and Cruise unlocks more Softbank cash

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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.

Autonowashing might be a term you’re unfamiliar with. It’s ok, you’ve most certainly encountered it.

What is autonowashing? The term, coined by Liza Dixon, is the “practice of making unverified or misleading claims which misrepresent the appropriate level of human supervision required by a partially or semi-autonomous product, service or technology.” In other words, and as Dixon further explains, “autonowashing makes something appear to be more autonomous than it really is.”

Tesla is perhaps the most visible offender of autonowashing, at least in terms of how it brands and describes its advanced driver assistance system. (It calls its standard system Autopilot and the optional $12,000 additional package is called Full Self- Driving; it is not.) But Tesla is hardly the only example in the automotive world.

The problem isn’t just the unabashed branding by automakers. A lack of knowledge among the media has helped these inaccuracies take root. One example (not the first, and sadly not the last) was the NYT opinion column published this week that was entitled “My Big fat Self-Driving Road Trip.” (NYT has since changed the headline)

To be clear, the vehicle on said road trip was a Cadillac Escalade. This SUV and EVERY OTHER VEHICLE ON THE MARKET TODAY is not “self-driving.” And yet it was depicted that way. Self-driving was used six times and autonomous showed up twice to describe a vehicle with ADAS.

Be prepared for these autonowashing floodwaters to rise again next week when automakers air new and splashy commercials during the Super Bowl.

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 me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec

Micromobbin’

It was a big week of funding announcements in the micromobility world.

Superpedestrian said it raised $125 million to help it expand its fleet, which will be equipped with Pedestrian Defense, the company’s advanced positioning software that both detects and corrects unsafe riding behaviors in real time.

E-bike maker Cowboy just raised $80 million to help it expand into the U.S. and beyond. The Belgian startup says it’s on track to reach more than 100,000 riders by 2023.

Meanwhile in Europe, Dott just raised a $70 million extension to its Series B, bringing it up to a total of $85 million, money it might use to beef up its bike-sharing offerings so it doesn’t have all its eggs in one e-scooter.

Dott, along with Tier and Lime, is also going to be working with UCL and Transport for London (TfL) as the two entities work together to develop an inclusive sound for e-scooters to alert pedestrians of their approach. It’s good to see a transportation authority take on some of the onus of keeping pedestrians safe from e-scooters, rather than just forcing scooter companies to implement insane levels of tech (See Superpedestrian above).

TfL, Dott, Lime and Tier have also come out with some new data showing the progress made by the London e-scooter trial. The data shows that more than 585,000 trips have now been made, with around 180,000 people having used the scheme to date. The busiest month of the trial was October as people returned to offices, and the most popular hour to ride an e-scooter is between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Bird is teaming up with local transport authorities in a pilot with Nashville’s WeGo Public Transit. The agency is going to be sharing transit usage data patterns with Bird to help address the transit gaps, and strategically place Bird vehicles in those areas.

And in the fresh accessories department, we have Priority Bicycles, which has just launched a battery extender for $799 to go along with its Current e-bike ($3,299 – $3,499). With the extender, riders can cruise all day with up to 100 miles of range.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

This is one of those hit-a-milestone-so-now-we-get-cash kind of deals. I’m talking about Softbank Vision Fund ponying up  $1.35 billion to Cruise. This isn’t a new investment, per se.

Softbank had committed to this capital, on top of its initial $900 million investment, once Cruise was ready for commercial deployment. It seems Softbank is convinced that Cruise, the self-driving subsidiary of GM, has met that target.

And so, it makes sense that alongside this capital, Cruise announced it was opening up its driverless robotaxi service to the public in San Francisco. For now, these rides are free and a public waitlist has been set up Tuesday via Cruise’s website. The company said in a blog post that members of the public who join the waitlist will not have to sign a non-disclosure agreement before using the service. There were a small group of friends and family who completed rides on January 27 and they were under NDA until this morning, a company spokesperson said.

San Francisco-based readers, reach out if you signed up!

Other deals that got my attention …

Annotell, Sweden-based startup that has developed software to assess and improve the perception capabilities of autonomous vehicle systems, raised $24 million to expand its business. The Series A round is being co-led by Metaplanet — the Estonian VC headed by the co-founder of Skype Jaan Tallinn — and NordicNinja — a Japanese-backed deep tech investor. Previous backers Ernström & Co and Sessan AB also participated.

Ferry, an EV subscription platform, raised $4 million in seed funding from Porsche heir Toni Piëch’s AMYP Ventures, Venn Ventures, and angel investors Adam Forst and Lisa Besserman.

Loadsmart, a freight technology company, raised $200 million in a Series D round led by SoftBank Latin America Fund with participation from Series C investor funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, rail transportation supplier CSX Corporation and global active asset manager Janus Henderson Group. Loadsmart is now a unicorn with a valuation of $1.3 billion, a three-fold gain from its Series C round in November 2020.

Soelect, a battery technology startup based in North Carolina, closed an $11 million Series A round led by Lotte Chemical and investment company KTB Network. General Motors’ corporate venture capital arm, GM Ventures, signed on as a strategic investor.

Truck It In, a logistics startup based in Pakistan, raised $13 million in a seed round led by venture capital firms Global Founders Capital and Fatima Gobi Ventures, Bloomberg reported. The other investors in the round include Picus Capital, Millville, Wamda, Zayn Capital, i2i Ventures, ADB Ventures, Cianna Capital, Reflect Ventures and K3 Ventures.

TTTech Auto, a Vienna-based automotive safety software provider, announced it raised $285 million in a Series C round led by Aptiv and supported by existing investor Audi. (The Series C is expected to close within the next two months, the company said.)

Vroom, the online used car marketplace, completed its acquisition of United Auto Credit Corporation. More than 500 UACC employees will stay with the company, including Jim Vagim, Co-President and Chief Executive Officer, who will continue to operate and expand UACC’s third party finance business.

Yalla Fel Sekka (YFS), whose business involves building a network of dark stores and micro-warehouses across Egypt, has secured a $7 million Series A round. Money is pouring into on-demand delivery in the Middle East and North Africa, which makes sense considering that analysts estimate it will be a $47 billion market by the end of the decade.

Zero Grocery, the plastic-free grocery, home and personal care delivery startup, raised $11.8 million in new seed funding, led by Sway Ventures. The startup, founded in 2019, has raised $16.5 million in funding to date.

The great and meh about the Kia EV6

Kia EV6

Image Credits: Kirsten Korosec

Let’s cut right to it: I test drove the Kia EV6 (GT-Line trim) at a recent press event and it impressed in just about every way, particularly its handling on the curvy and narrow roads in California wine country.

I was anxious to drive it because the EV6 is the first dedicated battery-electric vehicle to be built on the new E-GMP, a platform that is shared with Hyundai and Genesis as part of the Hyundai Motor Group. And the EV6 is one of 11 electric vehicles that Kia plans to deliver globally by 2026.

The Kia EV6 is two parts crossover and one part wagon. The vehicle’s wheelbase is 114.2 inches, which is the same as the Kia Telluride. The height, however, is 60.8 inches. That mix makes it aerodynamic and sporty, yet has enough room to lay down in back with the rear seats folded down. Yes, I checked.

Kia nailed it on a few important fronts like the performance and almost every aspect of the user experience.

User experience is one of those areas where a lot of automakers fail.

Kia got it right, particularly with the layout of the dual 12.3-inch screens that displays the instrument cluster and the infotainment and navigation. The infotainment screen curves ever so slightly towards the driver, allowing the driver to easily and safely interact with features like the standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Kia EV6

The location of brake regen paddles and the drive mode button, both of which are located on the steering wheel, was also a smart design choice.

The two areas that left me frustrated were voice — it failed more times than it worked — and the lack of integrated and real-time information on EV chargers in the navigation. EV charging information is an area that Kia, and any automaker hoping to convert consumers from ICE to EVs, needs to pay attention to.

Finally, I wanted to make mention of the advanced driver assistance system. I admittedly didn’t get a lot of time to try it out as our route was mostly on narrow two-lane roads. But on one section of highway I did engage the highway driver assist, which is a combination of adaptive cruise control, lane keeping and steering. It was remarkably adept and didn’t ping pong within the lane.

My big issue? I engaged the system and kept my hands off the wheel (but close and ready to grab). I didn’t receive an alert to put my hands on the wheel for more than four minutes. I tried it again, and I received the same result. And nope, the Kia EV6 does not have a driver monitoring system. I will be testing this vehicle again!

Notable reads and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Waymo had a small win in its fight to keep certain details about its autonomous vehicle operations from public view. The Alphabet-owned company, which filed a lawsuit last week against the California Department of Motor Vehicles to keep some information from its autonomous vehicle permit redacted from a public record request, was given a temporary restraining order.

There will be another hearing on February 22 to decide on the issue of permanent injunctive relief. The hearing will dig into the question of whether or not the information should continue to be redacted from the public record in perpetuity.

Electric vehicles

During Ford’s earnings call, CEO Jim Farley emphasized how cost-cutting has become a key piece of its EV strategy. The company has set up a task force dedicated to lowering the bill of materials for its battery-electric vehicles (BEV) “above and beyond just the usual declines in material costs.” And it appears to already be paying off. Ford found ways to cut $1,000 off the Mustang Mach-E in just the last month.

General Motors said it has secured more than 110,000 reservations for its new all-electric Chevrolet Silverado, which includes reservations from more than 240 fleet operators, Chair and CEO Mary Barra said in the company’s full-year and fourth quarter earnings letter to shareholders. Lest you forget, Ford announced in early January that it will nearly double production capacity of its upcoming electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck to 150,000 vehicles a year by mid-2023 in response to customer demand.

It was a tough week for EV SPACs. Faraday Future reported in a regulatory filing that it was revamping its board, cutting the pay of two top executives and suspending at least one other, following an internal investigation that determined employees made inaccurate statements to investors and that its “corporate culture failed to sufficiently prioritize compliance. And the co-founders of Electric Last Mile Solutions Inc. resigned following an internal investigation that discovered the top executives purchased equity in the company at substantial discounts to market value shortly before the commercial electric vehicle startup went public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company, Forum Merger III Corp.

In-car tech

Jaguar Land Rover announced Amazon Alexa will be available on all new and existing vehicles fitted with its advanced Pivi Pro infotainment system.

People news

Scale AI is getting into the synthetic data game and has hired two executives to build out the new product. Scale hired Joel Kronander, who previously headed up machine learning at Nines and was a former computer vision engineer at Apple working on 3D mapping, as its new head of synthetic data. The company also hired Vivek Raju Muppalla as its director of synthetic services. Muppalla was previously director of engineering for AI and simulation at Unity Technologies.

Stephanie Hannon has been hired as the new chief product officer at Waze. Hannon fills the position of Rapha Cohen, who was fired She previously led Google’s COVID-19 Exposure Notification project in collaboration with Apple. Prior to that, Hannon was CPO at fitness tracking app Strava and CTO for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Vertical Aerospace, an aerospace and technology company that is pioneering zero-emissions aviation, appointed Steffen Bay as head of market development, Latin America and Derek Cheng as head of commercial, Asia-Pacific. The company, which is developing zero-emissions aircraft, became a publicly traded company in December 2021.

Random

I expected that one day Anthony Levandowski would pop back up. The autonomous vehicle engineer and entrepreneur, who is perhaps one of the most polarizing figures in the industry, is never gone for long. But I didn’t expect it to be about in connection to a peer-to-peer open source wireless network called Pollen Mobile that his AV startup Pronto launched. Read all about this mobile network that will incentivize its users with cryptocurrency to run their own mini cell towers and build out the network’s coverage in the Bay Area where the service is initially launching.

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