Every day I wake up hoping to read news that the evil robot dog company, Boston Dynamics, has been swallowed whole by a giant sinkhole and every day I am disappointed. That and more for The Morning Shift for November 10, 2020.
Hyundai is in talks to buy Boston Dynamics from SoftBank, as Bloomberg reports. If you’d forgotten, SoftBank is the gigantic pile of money that was the chief backer of WeWork. Endlessly sound judgment there. Bloomberg details that the deal could fall through:
Proposed terms of the deal would give the South Korean automaker control of the robotics company in a transaction valued at as much as $1 billion, said one of the people, all of whom asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. The terms have yet to be finalized, and the deal could fall apart, said the people.
Bloomberg also details the practicality of the move, and implies why the company that makes the Elantra would be at all interested in a company that makes robots that can open doors and hunt you no matter where you hide:
At times, Boston Dynamics has functioned more like a research organization than a business, churning out machines that are technologically advanced and whimsical but unprofitable. That includes Spot, a maneuverable dog-like robot. Videos of its creations regularly rack up millions of views on YouTube; however, the company has said it is not currently generating profits.
By contrast, Hyundai makes highly practical industrial robots intended for factory use.
My only dream is that Hyundai is working for the good of humanity and will blow up Boston Dynamic’s every building with dynamite. My next-best case scenario would be that Hyundai refocuses Boston Dynamics from making terrifying faceless machines perfect for emotionless anti-human war and transitions them fully into building manufacturing equipment.
On the heels of GM hiring on 3,000 new EV-related jobs, Ford is opening up 150 new gigs to help make its upcoming all-electric Ford E-Transit van. The Kansas City plant where it will be built is also getting $100 million, as The Detroit News reports:
Ford Motor Co. announced Tuesday it will build the forthcoming E-Transit — a fully electric version of its bestselling Transit cargo van — at its Kansas City Assembly Plant, marking a new $100 million investment in the facility and the latest step in the Blue Oval’s strategy of electrifying its most popular and iconic nameplates.
The investment at the facility in Claycomo, Missouri, will bring 150 new full-time, permanent jobs, the automaker said.
Ford reinforced the deal with another EV investment as well, as Automotive News reports:
The electric van, set to be revealed Thursday, will go on sale in late 2021 as a 2022 model. Coupled with a previously-announced investment of $300 million at the plant for the launch of the redesigned F-150, Ford has hit the $400 million figure it promised to invest in the Kansas City, Mo., plant through 2023 in its 2019 contract with the UAW.
Additionally, Ford said Tuesday it would invest $150 million and retain 225 jobs to make e-motors and e-transaxles for new EVs at its Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Sterling Heights, Mich. The EV-related products were outlined in the UAW contract and the money is part of the $400 million investment Ford pledged to make there through 2023.
I hope that the transition to EVs is not entirely blamed for job cuts across the auto industry, as has been the narrative for a hot minute now, but I also don’t think a hundred-odd manufacturing jobs here and there will put it to bed.
Not all EV ventures are going smoothly, and the Nikola case is looking worse and worse, as the Financial Times reports:
Nikola and its founder have received subpoenas from the US attorney’s office for the southern district of New York, after fraud allegations at the electric truck start-up.
The office of the US Department of Justice issued grand jury subpoenas to the Phoenix-based company and now-departed founder Trevor Milton on September 19, according to a regulatory filing. Days later the company also received a grand jury subpoena from the New York county district attorney’s office.
It was the first acknowledgment from Nikola that it was under investigation by the DoJ. The southern district of New York, just blocks from Wall Street, is known for targeting financial crime.
I would not want to be in charge of the tightrope walk that is running an EV startup. Not enough hype and your company fades away. Too much hype and you’re in court getting called out for doing an Elon impression.
The auto industry is rapidly trying to throw a blanket over the Trump years, hoping we all just pretend it never happened. GM was just talking about how excited it is to have Biden’s EV measures on the horizon. Now the German auto industry lobby is “seeking unity” as Bloomberg reports, hoping to put tariff fights between US and EU behind them:
The industry is calling for talks between the U.S. and European Union to reverse protectionist tendencies, align technical standards and minimize trade barriers, Hildegard Mueller, president of industry lobby group VDA, said in a webcast hosted by Frankfurt business media club ICFW.
The VDA supports both sides abolishing tariffs entirely and acknowledges that “Europe must make its contribution as well,” Mueller said days after former Vice President Joe Biden defeated Trump. This week, the EU started imposing tariffs on $4 billion of U.S. goods in a tit-for-tat escalation of a fight over illegal aid to aircraft manufacturers Boeing Co. and Airbus SE.
Germany’s auto imports have routinely come under fire during Trump’s presidency, though he hasn’t followed through on threats to target them with tariffs. Volkswagen AG, BMW AG and Daimler AG pacified the White House with pledges to boost investment at their U.S. factories and made the case that levies would hurt their networks of American car dealers.
SoftBank has been busy, it appears, as it is now dumping $250 million into a prominent German e-scooter company and turning it into the second-most valuable e-scooter company behind the one that people kept throwing into trees, as the Financial Times reports:
SoftBank’s Vision Fund has made its first investment into the fast-growing but volatile electric scooter-sharing market, backing Berlin-based Tier Mobility in the largest funding round for a European e-scooter company to date.
Tier on Tuesday said SoftBank’s second Vision Fund had led a $250m investment in the company, which has pioneered a novel model of swappable batteries and local charging networks that investors say has enabled it to operate profitably, even when usage was hit by lockdowns.
The investment valued the start-up just below $1bn, including the new funds raised, said people briefed on the terms, allowing it to overtake Lime to become the second-most valuable e-scooter company after Bird.
Am I wrong to hold so vigorous an anti-robot bias? I feel like caution is the move, here.