Volvo to supply Uber with 24,000 self-driving SUVs for taxi fleet

Volvo to supply Uber with 24,000 self-driving SUVs for taxi fleet

Samantha Masunaga and Russ Mitchell November 20, 2017 9:25 AM

Volvo said Monday it will sell tens of thousands of luxury sport-utility vehicles to Uber Technologies Inc. starting as early as 2019 that will serve as the ride-hailing company’s self-driving taxi fleet.

The Swedish carmaker will supply the advanced XC90 SUVs over two years. The car, in its current version, which has some limited autonomous driving features, has a starting list price of about $47,000.

The autonomous vehicle fleet will number 24,000 vehicles, according to the Wall Street Journal. It’s unclear when the vehicles would be put on the road. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Jeff Miller, head of auto alliances at San Francisco-based Uber, said in a statement that the agreement puts the company on a “path towards mass produced self-driving vehicles at scale.”

The carmaker, acquired by Chinese automaker Geely Holding in 2012, said it also plans to use the base vehicle in the development of its own “independent autonomous car strategy.” The automaker said it plans to release its own fully autonomous car in 2021.

The “framework agreement,” which Volvo said was non-exclusive, builds on an earlier agreement from 2016 in which the two companies said they would co-develop autonomous vehicles.

Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Autotrader, said she expected to see more of these kinds of partnerships between Silicon Valley companies and traditional automakers.

“It’s pretty clear that autonomous vehicles and sharing go hand in hand,” she said.

Uber has ramped up its development of self-driving technology.

Last year, the company began offering rides in self-driving Ford Fusions to passengers in Pittsburgh as part of a test of Uber’s self-driving technology. The firm has also opened an advanced technologies group focused on self-driving technology, vehicle safety and mapping.

Competitor Lyft has doubled down on its own development of autonomous-vehicle technology. The San Francisco ride-hailing firm set up a unit to develop autonomous vehicle technology this past summer. It has also formed partnerships with General Motors and Waymo, the self-driving car company created by Google.

Waymo has begun testing autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans on public streets around Phoenix with no human at the wheel. The company plans to begin ferrying ride-hailing passengers within months.

And old-line industry supplier Delphi bought autonomous-vehicle startup Nutonomy last month for $400 million. Together, they’ll sell autonomous hardware and software systems to manufacturers and vehicle fleets.

“All the pieces are coming together,” said Alain Kornhauser, an autonomous vehicle expert at Princeton University. “The evolution can happen very fast.”

Volvo won’t be a captive supplier for Uber as its develops its own autonomous-vehicle technology. It plans to begin importing a new line of technology-laden Chinese cars under the Lynk & Co. brand into Volvo U.S. showrooms by the end of 2019.

Geely, meanwhile, has technology partnerships throughout China.

It’s unclear how far along Uber’s driverless technology is at this point. “Maybe they’re not the leader, but they’re near the front,” Kornhauser said.

That would be despite an exodus of engineers the company suffered during its recent turmoil, which saw the ouster of co-founder Travis Kalanick as chief executive. It also was hit in February with a trade secrets lawsuit filed by Waymo in a case that goes to jury selection later this month.

Waymo accuses Uber of stealing trade secrets around its laser-based Lidar sensing system when Uber bought a driverless trucking technology company, Otto, last year. Otto was headed by Anthony Levandowski, a former Waymo employee who was accused of downloading and absconding with thousands of sensitive files when he left the company.

He was named head of self-driving at Uber, but after the trade secrets case was filed, he was fired. He now leads a religious organization devoted to artificial intelligence.


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