Vinfast takes a wild ride, a robotaxi fallout brews and the IRA one year later
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A year ago, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, a law loaded with incentives for climate tech and designed to encourage companies like automakers to bring manufacturing back to the United States. We looked into what the effect of the law has had on the automotive industry, relations with Europe and whether startups — a world we pay attention to — have benefited.
The upshot? The battery factory trend might have started before the IRA was signed, but the law has helped accelerate the ramp. And while most funds are headed to infrastructure projects, startups are starting to see more deal flow. Check out our coverage!
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ElectraMeccanica, previously the maker of the three-wheeled Solo EV, is merging with an electric truck startup Tevva, and the whole deal makes me wonder if there’s a place for such tiny autocycles in the U.S.
The Solo could have been a neat way to get around cities, for both commuters and delivery drivers. But ElectraMeccanica struggled to produce its vehicles in a way that was cost-effective. The company faced adoption issues since three-wheelers were excluded from government rebates and it was too difficult to insure the vehicles. Back in March, ElectraMeccanica dropped the three-wheeled pursuit in favor of a more mainstream form of transport.
I understand why ElectraMeccanica went with electric trucks. Incentives abound, and going for commercial customers is always a good idea. But it’s sad to see such a green and interesting form of transport fail to make it off the ground. Especially when Arcimoto, probably the only other maker of tiny three-wheeled EVs, is also struggling to stay afloat.
Perhaps it’s only the three-wheeled aspect that makes such vehicles difficult for America to love. Electric golf cars appear to be on the rise, with some American families (particularly ones in warm climates like Florida) viewing the vehicles as a “second car.”
— Rebecca Bellan
Deal of the week
Talk about a wild ride!
Vietnamese EV maker Vinfast made its debut on the Nasdaq exchange with a bang. The company, which went public via a merger with special purpose acquisition company Black Spade Acquisition, saw shares shoot up 68% to close at $37.06 and a valuation of $86 billion. To put that into perspective, GM, Ford and Stellantis have market caps that are in the $45 billion to $50 billion range.
The celebrations didn’t last long. VinFast’s stock has plummeted in the days since. VinFast shares closed Friday at $15.40, which perhaps isn’t suprising considering the young EV upstart delivered just 11,300 vehicles in the first half of 2023 — not to mention its fundamentals show a company with costly ambitions that far outweigh revenue.
Other deals that got my attention …
Assembly Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm that invests in mobility technologies, closed its inaugural $76 million Assembly Ventures Fund I. Some of investors in the fund include strategic corporates such as Arbor Bancorp Inc. and Stellantis Ventures. A number of automotive, AV tech and VC veterans also invested in the fund, including Wolfgang Bernhart, Matt Cullen, Calvin Ford, Dan Gilbert (DVP), Philipp von Hagen, Joe Hinrichs, Karl Iagnemma, Jody Kelman, Tim Lalonde, Kathleen Ligocki, John Moavenzadeh, Stephen Polk, Tony Posawatz and Dug Song .
General Motors led a $60 million Series B round into battery materials startup Mitra Chem.
Helm.ai, startup that developed software for autonomous driving and automation of robotics, raised $55 million in its Series C round led by Freeman Group. Venture capital firms ACVC Partners and Amplo as well as strategic investors Honda Motor, Goodyear Ventures and Sungwoo Hitech also participated. Helm.ai has now raised $102 million to date.
JetZero, a commercial aerospace startup, was awarded a $235 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to build a jet with a blended wing body.
Pono Capital Three, a special purpose acquisition company, agreed to merge with Robinson Aircraft Ltd., Canadian company doing business as Horizon Aircraft that is developing an electric hybrid eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft).
Notable reads and other tidbits
When the California Public Utilities Commission voted to approve final permits allowing Cruise and Waymo to expand robotaxi operations and charge for driverless rides, I made a comment that not all newsletter readers appreciated. I wrote: “Cruise and Waymo may have won this battle, but the war to win over the public is hardly over.”
The past week has proven my point. Cruise experienced several embarrassing snafus in the few days following the vote, including videos showing vehicles blocking traffic and one driving into wet cement. It was enough to prompt the San Francisco City Attorney’s office to file motions with the CPUC to rollback that approval.
And that was before Thursday night, when Cruise collided with a fire truck that was responding to an emergency. A day after that crash, the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency that regulates the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles in the state, asked Cruise to immediately reduce its robotaxi fleet in San Francisco by 50% while it investigates the incident.
Cruise has complied with the request.
Electric vehicles, charging & batteries
A 75MW solar farm backed by Electrify America is up and running.
Ford partnered with South Korean battery manufacturers SK On and EcoPro BM to build a cathode manufacturing facility in Quebec, Canada. The CAD $1.2 billion (USD $890 million) joint investment will provide battery materials to supply future Ford electric vehicles.
Tesla launched cheaper Model X and Model S options with less range.
Software and in-car tech
Ford will make its hands-free driving hardware — BlueCruise — standard in many of its future vehicles and charge owners a subscription, which can be activated any time, to access the tech.
Monterey Car Week typically centers on giving homage to the past. But a number of companies at the events scattered around the area had their sights very much set on the future of high-end motoring, including speed, tech and electrification. Check out our roundup from contributor Tim Stevens.
Ford hired former Apple executive Peter Stern to lead its newly formed Ford Integrated Services unit. The unit will create and market software-enabled customer experiences across the automaker’s three business units: Ford Blue, for gas and hybrid vehicles, Model e for connected EVs, and Ford Pro for commercial products.
Vroom vroom! TechCrunch Disrupt 2023, taking place in San Francisco on September 19–21, is where you’ll get the inside scoop on the future of mobility. Come and hear from today’s leading mobility entrepreneurs on what it takes to build and innovate for a more sustainable future. Save up to $400 when you buy your pass now through September 18, and save 15% on top of that with promo code STATION. Learn more.