Motoring Weekly has written about robo-taxis before and this segment of the public transportation market is appears to be growing. Earlier this year, Waymo, a spin off from Google – but still owned by the parent company, Alphabet, committed to buying 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica mini-vans!
However, all was not what it seemed. At the time it made headlines due to the size of the order, yet the statement that they were buying 62,000 vehicles was not quite true. This was because it included several thousands cars already ordered, but not yet delivered. Prior to this order, Waymo only had 600 Chrysler vehicles in its fleet, although it did have some Lexus RXs.
The Chryslers are plugin hybrids which are then stuffed full of Waymo’s autonomous systems which have been tested in Arizona and San Francisco for a couple of years. In addition, Waymo has also committed to buying 20,000 Jaguar i-Pace full electric vehicles, although testing of that vehicle with their systems will only start late this year with a view that 2020 will see “productionised” versions joining the fleet.
They have also been talking with Honda about using one of their vehicles for light deliveries so it is clear that Alphabet have deep pockets and they see a massive revenue stream from self-driving taxis and deliveries. Interestingly they are looking at the Pacifica for volume – in other words car-pooling and the i-Pace SUV for a slightly smaller vehicle. I’m unclear about the efficiencies of autonomous deliveries – I cannot see how the final delivery is completed!
With the changes now happening in the ride-share market with reference to limiting the volumes of vehicles on city roads and possible licensing, I wonder how that will affect the revenue forecast behind the business. If a company commits to over 80,000 vehicles, they must have a fairly bullish business plan and hopefully one that can be adjusted quickly due to many possible issues that could arise – economically as well as legally.
It wouldn’t take too much for the US economy to flip over the peak that they are generally experiencing and the mid-terms are coming which could be a catalyst for change. We know that car sales are slowing, so these commitments are good for the industry, however if the underlying business model doesn’t generate the necessary cash, those orders might get scaled back which would have a knock-on effect with the manufacturers.
I also wonder about the safety of passengers in a self-drive car-pool system. How many people would like to get in a car with several strangers who may or may not know each other? I feel that the theory has been worked out however the practical application is fraught with danger – from a security and social perspective.
Apparently one future option is to sell fully configured self-drive Pacificas through the FIAT Chrysler dealer network. If you don’t want to drive, why buy a car – especially if you live in or around a main town or city.
Waymo – and Google before it – have been in development for over nine years and claim to have travelled over six million miles with their test fleets across many US cities. They are literally streets ahead of their competitors, so much so that Uber has been in discussions to use the technology in their fleets. It wasn’t that long ago that both parties were fighting in court over technology theft.
I think we need to keep an eye on their progress because if the plan fails, it will affect many other businesses.