Another autonomous vehicle startup is shuttering, Zoox is expanding driverless testing, and investor interest in AI is escalating

Image credits: Zoo

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Welcome back to TechCrunch Mobility — your central hub for news and insights on the future of transportation.

I spent a few days in Austin SXSW, where I met with founders and executives, attended a few talks, and even moderated two panels. While generative AI was clearly the big attraction, the future of transportation still captured the attention of investors, city planners, founders, companies, and media. I heard a lot of conversations about how autonomous vehicles would fit into cities, as well as debates about what technology could help ease traffic and reduce emissions.

I overheard an interesting conversation between the mayor of Austin Kirk Watson And Uber Director Dara Khosrowshahi, who predicted that the company would be greener, more affordable and challenge Amazon in the future. These goals seem a little more attainable – and higher on the priority list – now that Uber has finally checked the profitability box.

Waymo co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana was also at SXSW, where she announced that the company will begin offering a robotaxi service to the public in Los Angeles this week and in Austin by the end of the year. Side note: We hear the Austin service will likely take place sometime this summer. I might be back in town sooner than expected!

Alright, let’s get started with the rest of the week’s news!

A little bird

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EV startup Fisker has been courting dealers in recent months in an effort to move away from a Tesla-style direct sales model after struggling to sell half the cars it made in 2023.

It seemed like the company had made some progress on that front. However, a little bird told us that one of the dozen or so dealers he had signed up had already closed down. Fisker Ourisman, which was supposed to be the latest expansion of the Ourisman Automotive Group, has walked away from the startup, deleting the website it set up to promote Fisker’s Ocean SUV just a month after closing the deal.

The dealer loss comes after the Wall Street Journal reported that Fisker had hired outside help to consider a possible bankruptcy filing.

It is not immediately clear whether other dealers have followed suit. Mike Domenicone, the owner-operator of Classic of Atlanta, said he has completed more than 150 test drives and sold out the first batch of Ocean SUVs at his new “Classic of Fisker” offshoot.

Do you have a tip for us? E-mail Kirsten Korosec at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com or Sean O’Kane sean.okane@techcrunch.com. If you prefer to remain anonymous, Click here to contact usincluding SecureDrop (instructions here) and several encrypted messaging apps.

Offer of the week

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If you’re looking for another example of investor enthusiasm for AI, check out the latest fundraising at an autonomous vehicle software company Applied intuition.

The company raised $250 million in a round that brought its valuation to $6 billion, including a who’s who of high-profile investors. The Series E round was led by Lux Capital’s Bilal Zuberi, investor Elad Gil and Porsche Investments Management, the sports car manufacturer’s independent venture arm. Others who took part in the round included Andreessen Horowitz, Mary Meeker’s growth fund Bond and even Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg.

Applied Intuition says it is pushing for more artificial intelligence in the automotive, defense, construction and agriculture sectors. As a reporter Sean O’Kane wrote, the company seems to have found a particularly sweet spot for venture capital firms hunting for startups with AI products that are moving into big industries with big budgets – defense is a hot area – with seemingly endless possibilities.

Other deals that caught my attention…

Anaphitea battery technology startup, has raised £1.6 million ($2 million) through a government-backed grant investment led by Elbow Beach Capital.

inDrivea mobility app that includes taxi services and other urban services has expanded its financing deal with General Catalyst to $300 million, up from the initial $150 million committed in 2023.

Joyridea micromobility software provider, has raised $5.2 million in its Series A funding round led by Yamaha Motors and includes recurring investments from the Urban Innovation Fund, Proeza Ventures, Two Small Fish Ventures and Export Development Canada (EDC).

Motionalautonomous vehicle technology startup Motional, has secured a bridge loan that will provide temporary financial reprieve while the company looks for a longer-term funding source, TechCrunch has exclusively learned.

Telo, the electric vehicle startup that aims to produce a small pickup truck, has raised $5.4 million in a round from Neo and Spero Ventures. Marc Tarpenning, a Spero venture partner and co-founder of Tesla, will join the board.

Volvo car invested an undisclosed amount in British startup Breathe Battery Technologies. Volvo plans to integrate the startup’s battery management software into the next generation of electric vehicles to improve charging time by 30%.

Notable reading and other tidbits

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Autonomous vehicles

Apptronik, the Austin-based robotics startup, has partnered with Mercedes-Benz. The two companies will work together to identify and then test applications for highly advanced robotics in Mercedes-Benz Manufacturing.”

Aurora presented its autonomous vehicle system during an analyst and investor day at its headquarters in Pittsburgh. The company demonstrated how Peterbilt 579 semi-trucks equipped with the latest Aurora Driver system (without a human behind the wheel) handled real-world driving conditions on a closed course.

Phantom Car, a remote driving startup that launched seven years ago amid the boom in autonomous vehicle technology, shuttered after failing to raise new funding. The startup had raised $95 million since its founding and had customers. And we were told that they almost raised more money before that fell through. We’ll see what happens to Phantom Auto’s IP address.

Zoo expanded its driverless testing – in terms of operating hours, conditions and geography – near its headquarters in Foster City, California and in Las Vegas. The self-driving Zoox, which is not yet open to the public, now operates along a five-mile stretch of road from the south end of the Las Vegas Strip. Zoox is expected to open to public riders in Las Vegas later in 2024.

Electric vehicles, batteries and charging

Core shella battery materials startup, unveiled a breakthrough that could lower the cost of lithium-ion batteries.

Clear engines is locked in a trademark fight over the name of its Gravity SUV. Google Ventures-backed EV charging company Gravity Inc. filed a “Petition to Cancel” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) in December, requesting the revocation of the Lucid’s Gravity trademark.

India will reduce import taxes on certain electric vehicles for companies that commit to investing at least $500 million and setting up a local manufacturing facility within three years, a policy change that could boost Tesla’s plans to enter the South Asian market.

Lordstown Motors emerged from bankruptcy with a new name – Nu Ride Inc. – and an almost singular focus: continuing its lawsuit against iPhone maker Foxconn for allegedly “destroying the operations of an American startup.” The reconstituted version of Lordstown Motors will also pursue “potential business combinations,” although it did not say what type of mergers it is pursuing.

To ride

Uber And Lyft leave Minneapolis because of a minimum wage law.

This week’s wheels

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Image credits: Kirsten Korosec

While in Austin, I took a demo ride through the public streets in a self-driving VW ID Buzz prototype. This wasn’t a true driverless ride, as there was still a human safety officer behind the wheel. However, it did give me some insight into how VW ADMT – the German automaker’s autonomous driving, mobility and transportation subsidiary – is making progress. The definitive and commercial version of the driverless ID. Buzz AD, which will be designed for ride-hailing, is expected to launch in 2026.

You may recall that VW’s autonomous vehicle ambitions were packaged into Argo AI, a startup backed solely by the automaker and partner Ford. The two companies withdrew financial support for Argo AI, leading to its closure. VW then turned to Mobileye and has since followed a different path to automated driving that contrasts with Waymo, Cruise, Zoox and Motional.

VW and Mobileye believe in a progressive approach where technology from advanced driver assistance systems used in modern cars can evolve into a self-driving system used in robotaxis. It’s similar to what Tesla has argued.

My ride wasn’t entirely smooth, although I didn’t expect that. However, the vehicle did see it and suddenly stopped when a human-driven vehicle unexpectedly emerged from an alley. One hiccup occurred as we approached a double-parked emergency vehicle. The ID. Buzz sat for a while before the safety operator took control and drove around it.



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