In a week that saw the field of viable autonomous trucking developers shrink again — more on Waymo Via waving buh-bye for now below — Aurora Innovation (NASDAQ: AUR) disclosed that T. Rowe Price Investment Management Inc. purchased $125 million of new stock issued in a $600 million private placement.
Uber Technologies, already a major holder of Aurora shares, added $1 million to its stake in the private placement and 24.66 million shares at $3 each — worth about $74 million — in Aurora’s $220 million public offering of 73.3 million shares.
Uber and Aurora have long ties. The company best known for its ride-hailing business handed off its Advanced Technologies Group to Aurora in December 2020 and invested $400 million for a 26% stake in the startup. Uber currently owns about 22.4% of Aurora following its latest investments.
An S-3 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows Uber owns 30.1% of Aurora’s Class A common stock and has 6.3% of voting rights.
Aurora co-founder Sterling Anderson sells big chunks of stock
That investor confidence stands in coincidental contrast to Aurora co-founder and Chief Product Officer Sterling Anderson. He’s been selling big chunks of his substantial holdings in Aurora through a “set-it-and-forget-it” mechanism called a 10b-5 filed last September with the SEC.
A 10b-5 triggers daily sales at or above a certain stock price and runs through a preset date. It might not be a good look for a company executive as former Nikola CEO Mark Russell learned the hard way. But it is perfectly legal because the seller promises he is not trading on inside information.
From June 8 through Wednesday, Anderson sold 6.38 million shares, collecting $17.16 million. It’s unclear when his sale order ends. Whenever that is, Anderson will still have 85% of what are obviously substantial holdings in Aurora.
In at least some instances, Anderson swapped non-trading Class B shares, which carry 10 votes per share, for Class A shares that carry one vote per share. Then he sold the Class A shares, which crossed the $2 mark on June 8 and closed Thursday at $2.73.
Aurora Innovation co-founder and Chief Product Officer Sterling Anderson. (Photo: Aurora Innovation)
Waymo ‘buying’ on ride-hailing and ‘selling’ on driverless trucks
Waymo’s decision to effectively mothball its autonomous trucking efforts did not come as a huge surprise, other than the timing.
The Wednesday announcement — “buying” the prospects for autonomous ride hailing and “selling” on autonomous trucking — strove to avoid alienating strategic partner Daimler Truck North America. Waymo said it would follow through with investments in the redundant chassis for the Freightliner Cascadia.
For its part, Daimler said it respects Waymo’s decision to pursue autonomous ride-hailing for introduction in the U.S. Daimler will focus autonomous efforts on independent subsidiary Torc Robotics with a goal of introducing Level 4 high autonomy in 2027.
Waymo, meanwhile, is disappointed with the progress of legislation in California that would effectively ban autonomous trucks weighing more than 10,001 pounds. It will support regulatory frameworks and proposed legislation that would allow Waymo to resume autonomous trucking — someday.
Wamo is continuing to work on freeway autonomy, which is more relevant to freight movement than ride-hailing. TechCrunch reported that Boris Sofman, the engineering lead on autonomous trucking, would stay on and focus on applying Waymo’s AV system to general freeway capabilities.
Other partnerships related to the trucking program have ended, including ones with UPS and J.B. Hunt. The company is weighing options on what it will do with a Dallas hub dedicated to driverless trucking.
Waymo Via could return — someday. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)
Another battery-swapping deal but Daimler still not buying
Daimler Truck is still not buying battery swapping for electric vehicles. Yet, after knocking down the idea as financially imprudent, another of its holdings is giving it a try.
Mitsubishi Fuso is working with San Francisco-based Ample Inc. to conduct battery swaps on last-mile Fuso eCanter delivery vehicles in Japan. We reported on a strategic partnership between Foton and Aulton in China to implement a battery-swapping project for heavy-duty trucks.
“At this point in time, this is a local initiative only driven by Beijing Foton Daimler Automotive, the joint venture of Daimler Truck and Foton Motor, in a market where battery-swapping technology is being actively developed,” a Daimler spokesperson wrote in an email.
In Japan, Fuso and Ample will work together on a global scale to equip vehicles with Ample’s modular battery swapping technology. Using Ample’s second-generation stations, the trucks will be able to swap their depleted batteries and receive a full charge in as little as five minutes starting this winter.
A version of the eCanter sold under the Rizon brand arrives in the U.S. next quarter. But it will charge using alternating current, typically in a fleet’s behind-the-fence location.
“On a global scale, Daimler Truck currently does not see a substantial business potential for battery-swapping technology,” Daimler said, mirroring comments by technology head Andreas Gorbach at Daimler’s Capital Market Day in Boston on July 11.
Daimler owns 89% of Fuso. It intends to merge the brand with Toyota Motor’s Corp.’s Hino truck brand in 2024.
An Ample Inc. battery-swapping station. (Photo: Ample)
44 million autonomous miles — and counting
The Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association (AVIA) did the math after surveying its members. It counts 44 million miles of high-autonomy Level 4 driving — supervised and unsupervised.
While AVIA won’t share individual companies, Waymo claims more than 20 million miles dating to the Google self-driving car project that began in 2009. On the trucking side, TuSimple in March gathered employees to celebrate 10 million miles of human-monitored autonomous freight hauling. Kodiak Robotics CEO Don Burnette says Kodiak has racked up 2 million miles.
“Some have been at this longer than others and have done more in terms of autonomous miles so it’s all over the map in terms of where companies are in the process,” AVIA Executive Director Jeff Farrah told me.
AVIA’s point is not a scorecard but rather a proof point. Even though most people have never seen an autonomous vehicle in operation, they’re out there. And they are operating safely. As it battles legislation that would essentially ban driverless trucks above 10,001 pounds without a safety driver, AVIA is taking aim at a canard pushed by proponents of Assembly Bill 316.
“I wish AB316 was the only tussle or ongoing discussion we had but obviously we have stuff going on at the federal level within agencies on Capitol Hill,” Farrah said. “We’ve got stuff going on in different states, and California’s an unfortunate one.”
Briefly noted …
With the end of its manufacturing joint venture with Nikola, European truck maker Iveco is rebranding the Nikola Tre battery-electric truck in Europe as the Iveco Heavy Duty BEV.
Hyzon Motors is back in the good graces of the Nasdaq, which lifted a delisting warning after Hyzon maintained a share price above $1 for 10 consecutive days from July 12-25.
Lion Electric has officially opened its 900,000-square-foot Joliet, Illinois, facility, which Lion claims is the largest all-electric U.S. plant dedicated to medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicle production.
Lion Electric’s new truck manufacturing plant in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo: Lion Electric)
Next week’s scheduled guest is Jeff Farrah, executive director of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association, which is fighting to stop a ban on autonomous trucking in California. It is not faring well so far.
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