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Autonomous VehiclesNewsNewslettersTop StoriesTruck TalkTrucking

Truck Talk: Next acts edition

Where are they now? New challenges for industry leaders

This week, we’re looking at a lot of industry experience being brought to bear on startups and a familiar SPAC sponsor that has recruited a former U.S. president to a board role that could help pick a merger target. 

Moving on

It doesn’t matter what industry, second acts are common in professional careers. In baseball parlance, there are not many Tony Gwynns or Cal Ripken Jrs. who spend their entire careers with one team. 

Consider Rich Mohr, 25 “seasons” with Ryder System Inc. (NYSE: R), the last five as chief technology officer after 20 years working with trucking fleets. Six months ago, Mohr took his talents — apologies to LeBron James — to ChargePoint Holdings (NASDAQ: CHPT), the recently de-SPACed maker of electric charging stations and purveyor of charging as a service.

Rich Mohr

“When I was thinking, if I’m going to make a bet, where would I want to make [it]?” Mohr told me this week. 

“When I was going through the interview process at ChargePoint, I look at [a company] that is vertically integrated, that has their own tech stack, that was well-funded, that already had a 70% market share on the consumer side and had a good strategy on how they were going to integrate with fleets. It started to become really clear that I could make a big impact.”

Watch for more from Mohr soon at FreightWaves.com.

And for his next act …

Vince Cubbage, who brought hybrid-electric truck powertrain maker Hyliion Holdings (NYSE:  HYLN) public last October, wasted no time in starting two more special purpose acquisition companies.

In February, Cubbage announced Tortoise Acquisition Corp. II would merge with Volta Industries, operator of  public electric vehicle charging infrastructure. That deal has an anticipated enterprise value of $1.4 billion.

Vince Cubbage

This week, Cubbage quietly announced TortoiseEcofin Acquisition III, his third so-called blank check company targeting a private energy transition or sustainability company for sponsorship to go public. Ecofin raised $300 million by offering 30 million units at $10. Each unit consists of one ordinary share and one-fourth of a warrant, exercisable at $11.50 per share. 

Ecofin has two years to find a merger target. It might be safe to bet on its success, at least based on influence. Cubbage recruited former President Bill Clinton to join Ecofin’s board.

“We were aware of President Clinton’s commitment to clean energy and the environment and respect his work to fight climate change and expressed interest through his people in having him as a director.”

Vince Cubbage, CEO, TortoiseEcofin Acquisition III

“We were aware of President Clinton’s commitment to clean energy and the environment and respect his work to fight climate change and expressed interest through his people in having him as a director,” Cubbage said in a statement.

The New York Post, the first to report Clinton’s involvement, said the 42nd commander in chief received one-tenth of 1% (30,000 Ecofin shares valued at $300,000) to join the board. Will he pitch possible targets? Clinton isn’t saying.

“There might be prospective acquisition companies that are getting emails from 40 different SPACs saying, ‘We want to talk to you’ — and one of them might instead have a call from Bill Clinton,” University of Florida finance professor Jay Ritter told the newspaper.

“A lot of CEOs, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, would be happy to spend an hour talking with him.”

It is not the first time Cubbage has plucked a director from the political arena. Former Transportation Secretary Andrew Card, who was chief of staff for President George W. Bush, is a member of the Hyliion board. 

Neither Ecofin (NYSE: TRTL.U) nor Hyliion is getting much love from traders. 

Econfin closed Thursday at $9.90, 10 cents below its offering price. Hyliion, with a 52-week high of $58.66, closed Thursday at $9.50, one of many electrification stocks beaten down in recent months after high-flying debuts. Volta, which trades as Tortoise Acquisition II (NYSE: SNPR) until the merger closes, was unchanged Thursday at $9.91.

Life after leadership 

Roger Nielsen, who retired in April as CEO and president of Daimler Trucks North America, is back in the transportation business as a board member at NODAR, a maker of 3D vision for autonomous vehicles.

Roger Nielsen

“I still have a passion for what’s going on in battery electric. I’ve got a passion about what’s going on in autonomous,” Nielsen told me in a February interview. “There’s a lot of transformations [that] trucking companies have to go through in the next 10 years to get themselves ready for new technologies.”

“I still have a passion for what’s going on in battery electric. I’ve got a passion about what’s going on in autonomous,”

Roger Nielsen, retired CEO, Daimler Trucks North Ameri

Nielsen kept his promise to his wife “not to say yes to anything until we’d been out for a month.

Is this really the Tesla Semi’s moment?

Aside from the occasional tweet and brief mention in earnings reports, Tesla doesn’t say much about its oft-delayed Class 8 Semi. About the only source of info is the Electrek website, which is, nicely put, dedicated to coverage of all things Tesla.

In March, Electrek reported a production line for the Semi was under construction in a new building near Gigafactory Nevada, with a goal of producing five semi electric trucks a week by the end of the year.

Here’s the latest on the Semi, from Electrek this week:

“Sources familiar with the matter told Electrek that the drive axle production line is ready and the general assembly line is going through its final debugging before starting production.”

Tesla plans to use the first few Tesla Semi trucks for its own operations, but some longtime reservation holders, including a Frito-Lay plant in Modesto, California, expect to take delivery this year.

Tesla Semi on the track (Photo: Tesla)

Powering reefers

XL Fleet, another one of the former SPAC-sponsored electrification companies that has fallen on hard times in the public markets, is nonetheless investing in new business. The company this week announced a partnership and investment in eNow, a maker of solar and battery-powered systems that enable fully electric transportation refrigeration units, or eTRUs.

This is a big deal for both. It gives a lift to eNow, which has developed mobile solar battery charging systems since 2011. Its patented solar systems capture the sun’s energy with roof-mounted solar modules. It stores the energy in auxiliary batteries to power liftgates, in-cab air conditioning and heating, telematics and other things that require diesel engine idling.

XL Fleet will supply battery and power electronics systems for the first 1,000 units of eNow’s new electrified refrigerated trailers.

Wabash National (NYSE: WNC) revealed an eNow system on a reefer trailer at the American Trucking Associations’ Technology and Maintenance Council meeting in February 2019. The road-ready all-electric Carrier Transicold refrigerated trailer could save 50% over a diesel-powered unit.

Wabash is not involved in the XL Fleet and eNow partnership.

Locomation anniversary

Cake and candles for the third birthday of Locomation, which develops human-guided autonomous truck convoying, also known as truck platooning. Platooning gets far less attention than the horse race around Level 4 high autonomy, but Locomation is finding its niche.

Earlier in July, the company moved into new, more spacious offices in Pittsburgh’s Robotics Row, where TechCrunch reports Google-backed Waymo will co-locate with Locomation. Locomation also is taking permanent garage space at the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty, Ohio, the nation’s largest independent test track and proving grounds.

Locomation is on its third-generation technology, using the Kenworth T680 as its base platform. The trucks feature new hardware, including Tier 1-supplied and jointly developed autonomous operation-intent steering, brake and powertrain, as well as more advanced autonomy software. 

Locomation, which has raised $50 million, has 62 employees, about a threefold increase in the last nine months.

Locomation on the move in Pittsburgh. (Photo: Locomation)

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. You can get Truck Talk in your email on Fridays by subscribing here.

Alan

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is a Detroit-based award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press and most recently as Detroit Bureau Chief for Trucks.com. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.

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