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The Station: Lime scoots towards profitability, a framework for AVs, and another electric vehicle SPAC

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

Hi folks, welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

Let’s get right to it. Companies tried to pack in the news before the Thanksgiving holiday, which means we have a lot to um, digest.

Email me anytime at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

COVID-19 has obliterated entire business models, while boosting others. Micromobility startups were some that suffered in the early days of the pandemic. However, there appears to be a recovery. Lime is the latest example.

Lime said this week it has moved beyond the financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, is now largely profitable. Alex Wilhelm and I raised our eyebrows at this and asked for more detail. As you might know, there are all kinds of tricks to be able to claim profitability. What we learned from the company — and yes, reader I know, it’s a private company and therefore no public filing — was rosier than we expected.

Lime said it was both operating cash flow positive and free cash flow positive in the third quarter — a first — and is on pace to be full-year profitable, excluding certain costs (EBIT), in 2021. In general, cash flow positivity is an important threshold for a startup to reach because it implies that the company can largely self-fund from that point forward, limiting its dependency on external cash for survival.

Lime also claimed that it “reached EBIT positive at the company level over the summer.” The specifics of the phrase “EBIT positive” are important. Was the company employing strict EBIT on its math and not discounting share-based compensation, or was it measuring using adjusted EBIT as many startups do, removing the cost of share-based compensation that shows up in GAAP results? According to the company the number did exclude share-based compensation, making the news slightly smaller.

And finally, the last most bullish data point. The company said it expects to be full-year profitable in 2021. TechCrunch asked for specifics because again how one measures profitability matters. It turns out, Lime is basing this projection on EBIT, as opposed to more traditional net income. For a startup this is not a surprising decision, but before we declare Lime fully “profitable,” we’ll want some more GAAP metrics.

In other Lime news …

The company launched its fourth-generation scooter in Paris, a device designed to last more than two years. The Gen4 will roll out across Europe in early 2021. Much of the Gen4 work was done by engineers at Uber’s Jump micromobility unit. Lime did some tweaking to the Jump team’s work, specifically improving the scooter’s durability and swapped out some parts that would allow the company to reuse parts from existing Lime vehicles.

Lime also teased that a “third mode,” beyond bikes and scooters, is also in the works for the first quarter of 2021, as well as the addition of third-party companies to its platform.


I recommend that you take the time to read an article by two of TechCrunch’s European reporters Natasha Lomas and Romain Dillet. The pair examined the urban transformation that is underway in Paris, Barcelona, London and Milan, specifically policy decisions aimed reclaiming streets for feet and two wheels.

A few highlights include Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s efforts to create a “15-minute city” and Barcelona’s ambitious pedestrianization plan focused on creating ‘superilles’ or ‘superblocks.’

Grab a coffee and get comfortable for this detailed breakdown.

Oh! wait … a couple of other micromobbin’ items …

Voi, another European electric scooter startup, is equipping its devices with computer vision sensors to detect pedestrians and sidewalks. The aim, VentureBeat reports, is to help users avoid collisions and comply with local legal requirements.

Zipp Mobility, the Irish micromobility startup, is now operating in two Buckinghamshire towns under a year-long pilot program. The company will launch with 25 electric scooters in each area, with plans to increase the fleet size to 300 scooters over the next two months.

Deal of the week

money the station

The summer of the SPAC has spilled over into fall and is threatening to continue into 2021. Startups aiming to produce and sell electric vehicles seem to be particularly fond of this path to becoming a public company. We have Canoo, Fisker, Lordstown Motors, Hyliion, Nikola and now Arrival.

Arrival was an unknown UK startup that operated quietly for about five years until bursting on the public scene in January with a $110 million investment from Hyundai and Kia. It soon became one of the UK’s most valuable startups with a valuation of $3.4 billion.

Arrival’s aim is to produce electric vehicles that are competitive in price with traditional fossil fuel-powered vehicles and lower than other EVs. Arrival’s pitch is that its modular electric “skateboard” platform, which can be used on a range of different vehicle types, along with its use of microfactories are the key ingredients to its price competitive sauce. So far, the company has two vehicles — an electric van and bus. Production of its buses are expected to start in the fourth quarter 2021 and its vans in 2022.

OK, so the gist of the deal is this: Arrival agreed to merge with special purpose acquisition company CIIG Merger Corp. with a market valuation up to $5.4 billion. Arrival raised $400 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, from investors that included Fidelity Management & Research Company, Wellington Management, BNP Paribas Asset Management Energy Transition Fund and funds managed by BlackRock. Arrival will have about $660 million in cash proceeds.

On a side note, the company was founded by Denis Sverdlov, who also created Roborace.

Arrival electric bus van

Image Credits: Arrival

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Electric Last Mile Solutions, a Michigan-based electric vehicle startup founded by former Accuride and Ford executive Jason Luo, is in talks to go public through a merger with Forum Merger III Corp., Bloomberg reported. The startup aims to produce mre than 100,000 vehicles a year at a plant in Indiana. Caveat: the terms are not finalized.

Fenix, a new Abu Dhabi micromobility startup, raised $3.8 million in a seed round investment led by Israel-based venture firm Maniv Mobility. The deal is notable for a few reasons. Remember Circ? It’s the Middle East scooter company that Bird acquired and then shuttered in several cities. The founders of Circ, Jaideep Dhanoa and IQ Sayed (who were also colleagues at Careem), started Fenix. Maniv Mobility founder and managing partner Michael Granoff told me this is the first Israeli VC to invest in a UAE-based tech company. Granoff is joining the Fenix board. “Aside from more momentum toward clean and practical urban mobility, I think it heralds an amazing new age of cooperation in the Middle East,” Granoff wrote me in an email touting the deal.

Forto, a digital freight forwarder, raised $50 million in a funding round led by Inven Capital, a growth fund out of the Czech Republic. Additional investment came from Iris Capital as well as existing investors Rider Global, Northzone, Cherry Ventures, Unbound (Shravin Mittal) and the Italian venture fund H14.

Gojek, the ride-hailing firm, raised $150 million from Indonesia’s biggest telecom network Telkomsel. This is being sold as a “strategic partnership,” and seems to expand upon the companies’ existing relationship. Since 2018, Gojek and Telkomsel have maintained a deal to subsidize the cost of mobile data consumed by the ride-hailing firm’s driver partners.

Lightning EMotors, a Colorado-based fleet electrification company, is in advanced talks to go public through a merger with blank-check firm GigCapital3 Inc., Bloomberg reported. There is still some ways to go on this deal, however. GigCapital3 is trying to raise about $100 million in new equity to support a transaction that would create a combined entity worth $700 million to $1 billion, including debt.

Loadsmart, an on-demand digital freight platform, raised $90 million in a Series C funding round co-led by funds under management by BlackRock and Chromo Invest. Strategic investor TFI International, a leader in the logistics space, also participated in this round. Maersk, a global oceanic shipping leader and one of Loadsmart’s strategic backers since its Series A round, also participated.

Ride Vision, an Israeli startup building an AI-driven safety system to prevent motorcycle collisions,  raised a $7 million Series A round led by crowdsourcing platform OurCrowd. YL Ventures, Mobilion VC and motorcycle mirror manufacturer Metagal also participated in this round. The company has now raised a total of $10 million.

Strava, the activity and fitness data-tracking platform, raised $110 million in new funding, in a Series F round led by TCV and Sequoia, and including participation by Dragoneer group, Madrone Capital Partners, Jackson Square Ventures and Go4it Capital.

Election day mobility: scooters

Spin, the micromobility subsidiary of Ford, sent me an interesting graphic and some data points about its ridership on Election Day.

Now, this is just one company’s data. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and make wild presumptions. Think of this an interesting tidbit on how some people were getting around November 3 and one company’s strategy to encourage ridership to the polls.

Spin recorded a 31.45% overall increase in ridership on Election Day from the previous Tuesday. The company offered a $10 discount for riders commuting to the polls November 3 under its SpinToVote campaign, which certainly helped push those ridership numbers higher. Spin said nearly 3,000 riders used the SpintoVote discount.

Cities with the highest increases in ridership on Election Day were Chicago with a whopping 243% rise, Cleveland with 193%, San Francisco with 25% and Atlanta with a10% increase. Spin also tracked use of its “Spin to Vote” campaign. Riders in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, San Diego and Washington D.C. had the highest opt in for that discounted ride campaign.

Update: Lime sent me some of their data, which they also posted in a blog. The company said riders used the Lime to the Polls promotion code for 20% of all U.S. trips on Election Day. This is double the percentage of trips taken during the company’s first Lime to the Polls campaign for the 2018 midterm elections.

How did you get to your polling location? (for those who didn’t mail in their ballot)

spin-election day statistics

Image Credits: Spin

Notable reds and other tidbits

Seriously, folks. So.much.news.

California Public Utilities Commission approved Thursday two new programs to allow permitted companies to provide and charge for shared rides in autonomous vehicles. While the industry mostly cheered the news, some have argued that the approval process to secure one of these permits adds unnecessary bureaucracy that could delay deployments by more than two years.

General Motors had a bunch of announcements this week. First up, the company is getting back into the insurance biz, but this time more in step with the connected-car era. The service, called OnStar Insurance, aims to leverage the vast amounts of data captured through its OnStar connected car service, which today has more than 16 million members in the United States.

The U.S. automaker also upped its budget for electric vehicles and automated technology by 35%. GM said it will spend $27 billion over the next five years on EVs and AVs. GM is also accelerating its go-to-market timeline and adding more EVs to its portfolio plans. The new plan is to bring 30 new electric vehicles to a global market through 2025.

Lordstown Motors said it plans to establish an automotive R&D center in Farmington Hills with support from the Michigan Strategic Fund, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced today. The project is expected to create 141 jobs.

Luminar locked in a supplier deal to furnish Intel subsidiary Mobileye with lidar for its fleet of autonomous vehicles. The deal will see a rising star paired with a company that has long dominated the automotive industry. I breakdown why this is seemingly small deal is worth paying attention to.

Motional, the Aptiv-Hyundai $4 billion joint venture aimed at commercializing autonomous vehicles, received approval from the state of Nevada to test fully driverless vehicles on public roads. The company plans to begin driverless testing on public roads in Las Vegas sometime in early 2021.

National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration officials released an advance notice of proposed rule-making for automated driving. Remember last week when I said rumor had it that U.S. regulators planned to make some moves that will affect the autonomous vehicle industry? Specifically, I noted that UL 4600, a standard created by Underwriters Laboratories that offers a guide for how to build the safety case for an AV design, is rumored to be the front runner.

Welp … the framework released this week includes a whole section for UL 4600. You can view the NHSTA Framework for Automated Driving here.

NYT does a deep dive into the arms race in car stereos.

Panasonic signed a preliminary agreement with the Nordic energy company Equinor and engineering and industrial company Norsk Hydro to collaborate on building a battery business in Northern Europe. Ok, I know, it’s a “preliminary agreement.” This got my attention because of the battery supplier battle that between LG Chem and Panasonic. And as TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber notes: Panasonic’s push into Northern Europe alongside two big regional players in hydrocarbons and renewable energy is a sign of the potential that exists in the European market beyond automotive.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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SpaceX sets new record for most satellites on a single launch with latest Falcon 9 mission

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SpaceX has set a new all-time record for the most satellites launched and deployed on a single mission, with its Transporter-1 flight on Sunday. The launch was the first of SpaceX’s dedicated rideshare missions, in which it splits up the payload capacity of its rocket among multiple customers, resulting in a reduced cost for each but still providing SpaceX with a full launch and all the revenue it requires to justify lauding one of its vehicles.

The launch today included 143 satellites, 133 of which were from other companies who booked rides. SpaceX also launched 10 of its own Starlink satellites, adding to the already more than 1,000 already sent to orbit to power SpaceX’s own broadband communication network. During a launch broadcast last week, SpaceX revealed that it has begun serving beta customers in Canada and is expanding to the UK with its private pre-launch test of that service.

Customers on today’s launch included Planet Labs, which sent up 48 SuperDove Earth imaging satellites; Swarm, which sent up 36 of its own tiny IoT communications satellites, and Kepler, which added to its constellation with eight more of its own communication spacecraft. The rideshare model that SpaceX now has in place should help smaller new space companies and startups like these build out their operational on-orbit constellations faster, complementing other small payload launchers like Rocket Lab, and new entrant Virgin Orbit, to name a few.

This SpaceX launch was also the first to deliver Starlink satellites to a polar orbit, which is a key part of the company’s continued expansion of its broadband service. The mission also included a successful landing and recovery of the Falcon 9 rocket’s first-stage booster, the fifth for this particular booster, and a dual recovery of the fairing halves used to protect the cargo during launch, which were fished out of the Atlantic ocean using its recovery vessels and will be refurbished and reused.

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Watch SpaceX’s first dedicated rideshare rocket launch live, carrying a record-breaking payload of satellites

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SpaceX is set to launch the very first of its dedicated rideshare missions – an offering it introduced in 2019 that allows small satellite operators to book a portion of a payload on a Falcon 9 launch. SpaceX’s rocket has a relatively high payload capacity compared to the size of many of the small satellites produced today, so a rideshare mission like this offers smaller companies and startups a chance to get their spacecraft in orbit without breaking the bank. Today’s attempt is scheduled for 10 AM EST (7 AM PST) after a first try yesterday was cancelled due to weather. So far, weather looks much better for today.

The cargo capsule atop the Falcon 9 flying today holds a total of 143 satellites according to SpaceX, which is a new record for the highest number of satellites being launched on a single rocket – beating out a payload of 104 spacecraft delivered by Indian Space Research Organization’s PSLV-C37 launch back in February 2017. It’ll be a key demonstration not only of SpaceX’s rideshare capabilities, but also of the complex coordination involved in a launch that includes deployment of multiple payloads into different target orbits in relatively quick succession.

This launch will be closely watched in particular for its handling of orbital traffic management, since it definitely heralds what the future of private space launches could look like in terms of volume of activity. Some of the satellites flying on this mission are not much larger than an iPad, so industry experts will be paying close attention to how they’re deployed and tracked to avoid any potential conflicts.

Some of the payloads being launched today include significant volumes of startup spacecraft, including 36 of Swarm’s tiny IoT network satellites, and eight of Kepler’s GEN-1 communications satellites. There are also 10 of SpaceX’s own Starlink satellites on board, and 48 of Planet Labs’ Earth-imaging spacecraft.

The launch stream above should begin around 15 minutes prior to the mission start, which is set for 10 AM EST (7 AM PST) today.

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How emerging markets are approaching crypto

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From Brazil to Nigeria, people turn to Bitcoin for different reasons than most of their speculating counterparts in North America. Namely, because it’s the most advantageous way for them to conduct international transactions. 

Such is the case with a 28-year-old poker player in Brazil who simply goes by Felipe, for safety. Poker is a legal form of gambling in Brazil, so Felipe can use Brazilian banks and regulated exchanges to earn income from home. He dropped out of law school because playing poker against foreigners with Bitcoin to spend was more profitable than becoming a partner at a local law firm. Felipe said he now outearns his brother, a middle-tier executive at one of Brazil’s top corporations. 

“Bitcoin is the best medium of money exchange in the poker community,” Felipe said. “I withdraw earnings as Bitcoin, or as Tether, to a Brazilian crypto exchange and sell it there.”

Felipe said he is wary of his government because he believes the Brazilian economy will experience a catastrophic shock in the next few years. Back in 1992, President Fernando Collor de Mello was impeached after confiscating millions of civilian savings accounts to offset national debts. Felipe doesn’t want his bank account forcibly emptied when the next crisis hits. This inspires him to accumulate Bitcoin, avoiding more traditional options stocks. 

“The pension funds system is completely broken,” Felipe added. “The thing with Bitcoin is, you don’t need it until you do.” 

Manuel Folgueiras is one of many Cuban users who joined the Bitcoin ecosystem over the past year. This 33-year-old economist, who lost his tourism industry job in 2020, now supports himself using various cryptocurrency projects.

“It’s very difficult to get Bitcoin, because we don’t have access to any exchanges and there are a lot of scams. Cuban banks don’t have relationships with crypto exchanges,” Folgueiras said. “Now I use Bitcoin for both savings and income, through trading arbitrage. We have to use a VPN and it’s very risky. If the exchange detects that you’re from Cuba, your account will get blocked.”

Global demand for Bitcoin has been surging since the pandemic began in 2020, pushing dollar-denominated prices briefly past $34,000 during the first week of January, 2021. For residents in many emerging markets, demand for Bitcoin is driven by concerns about the overall health of their national economies, not pure speculation. Some of these countries where Bitcoin markets are spiking, especially in Latin America and the Middle East, are seeing their domestic economies tailspin and are worried political controls could further threaten economic stability.

For example, since Western Union stopped operating in Cuba, more Cubans are using Bitcoin than ever before. For people in a variety of countries, pandemic policy changes reduced access to the dollar-centric financial system.

Folgueiras estimated he is one of roughly 80,000 people on the island involved in an unofficial brokerage business called Trust Investing, often called a Ponzi scheme by local technologists. In short, the business promises to trade cryptocurrency on behalf of “investors,” to whom they deposit lucrative returns. The project promises 200% returns, which seems impossible, and references questionable “partners” on the Trust Investing website. 

Those partner companies are registered to people associated with a variety of court cases across Latin America and, in June 2020, Panama’s National Securities Market Commission (CNMV) published a warning not to trust the Trust Investing company itself. Even Folgueiras acknowledged that many people call this business a scam. But he said returns from the Trust Investing program are helping him survive the abysmal job market. It’s a gamble whether the company will give him returns or run away with his money, a risk he’s willing to take. 

Plus, Folgueiras added, any form of Bitcoin business in Cuba is already “very risky.” There aren’t many regulated, trustworthy exchanges openly serving Cubans today, due to U.S. sanctions. Aside from the remittance startup, BitRemesas, the last compliance-oriented startup that tried serving this market shut down in 2019. As such, many Cubans turn to questionable schemes, or WhatsApp, instead. 

“Cubans get Bitcoin via WhatsApp groups, peer-to-peer trading. The most popular mobile wallets are Coinomi, Enjin Wallet and Trust Wallet, because most people in Cuba only use a cell phone. It’s a mobile-only market,” Folgueiras said. “Bitcoin changed my life in a positive way and became an important source of income. Cryptocurrencies are also an interesting way for Cubans to shop online and send international payments or remittances.” 

This grassroots, mobile-only environment is common across many small countries with underdeveloped economics. Likewise, Fodé Diop, founder of the Dakar Bitcoin Developers meetup in Senegal, told CoinDesk last year that Senegal was not just a mobile-first market; it’s a mobile-only Bitcoin scene. Unlike North America and Europe, many emerging-market crypto communities only use cell phones for everything from research and trading to storage. 

On the other hand, it would be a mistake to assume most emerging-market Bitcoin users are marginalized by the global banking system. To the contrary, in countries like Nigeria and Brazil, many upper-middle-class entrepreneurs and gamers use Bitcoin to conduct perfectly legal business. According to data from the global peer-to-peer (P2P) markets LocalBitcoins and Paxful, there were more than $25.3 million worth of P2P Bitcoin trades last year in Brazil alone. 

Meanwhile, in Africa, Nigerian P2P Bitcoin volumes dwarf those numbers with a cool $357 million. Likewise, BuyCoins co-founder Tomiwa Lasebikan said his Nigerian cryptocurrency exchange ballooned from an average of $5 million in monthly volume in December 2019 to $21 million by December 2020. 

He said several factors spurred local growth, including anti-police brutality activists like the Nigerian Feminist Coalition, which collected bitcoin donations after being denied banking access, and stricter banking limitations on Nigerians paying for international services.

A lot of people in Nigeria are running into a problem that they couldn’t renew subscriptions, like Spotify or Amazon, with their Nigerian accounts,” Lasebikan said. “Then, in October, there was a whole lot of interest in cryptocurrency, not just Bitcoin, for aggregating donations for people protesting police brutality. A lot of activists had their bank accounts shut down. Continued fundraising like this, both inside and outside the country, would not have been possible two decades ago.” 

He added his exchange startup now serves roughly 12,000 active users a month. Nearby, Binance communications lead in Nigeria, Damilola Odufuwa, said her global exchange company facilitated hundreds of virtual events for 17,000 Nigerian crypto beginners in 2020. These educational programs covered basic terminology, trading strategies and guides to opening exchange accounts. 

“During the pandemic, it was hard to get things into the country, including remittances,” Odufuwa said. “Now there’s also this need to use cryptocurrency to donate [to activists]…we plan to at least quadruple educational programming this year.”

Depending on the user’s socioeconomic background, people use Bitcoin to earn income from online games like poker, trading cryptocurrencies or offering freelance services to international clients. Odufuwa said thousands of the new users she’s seen during the pandemic want to profit from their developer skills, not just trades. So her company will offer more developer training related to the open-source Binance Smart Chain project. Although it’s impossible to accurately quantify, it seems as though at least hundreds of freelancers around the globe now depend on Bitcoin for income. 

One such LocalBitcoins user in Latin American, Venezuelan journalist José Rafael Peña, has been earning the majority of his income in Bitcoin since late 2016. He estimated that cryptocurrency writing gigs account for 90% of his income. 

“Bitcoin, in some circumstances, is a very helpful tool, especially when you live in a country with a chaotic economy and limited financial tools,” Peña said. “I began using Bitcoin because it let me protect against the bolivar’s devaluation, even without a dollar bank account.”

All things considered, Odufuwa said emerging markets saw “tremendous” growth since the pandemic began. But Peña warned not to confuse that growth with a mainstream “solution” to local government woes. 

“Most people try to survive the crisis in any way,” he said. “Even here, crypto is a niche.”

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