Weekly Brief: Apple invests $1Bn in Uber’s Chinese rival

Apple is in. Those three words sent shock waves reverberating around the automotive world as news spread that the tech giant had invested $1Bn (£696M) in Didi Chuxing, the largest ridesharing service in China. Didi Chuxing is the Uber of China, much to Uber’s chagrin, and is present in 400 Chinese cities, with 300M active users.

Granted, Apple’s investment is partly motivated by a need to maintain ground in China, with the popularity of the iPhone sagging and government support for Apple products at an all-time low. But the Didi investment also shows that Apple is ready to act in the connected car space in a big way. It’s no secret the company has a self-driving car of its own in the works, and Didi’s data could prove useful for deploying that car in Asia when the time is right.

Sticking with ridesharing, General Motors (GM) and Lyft revealed that they plan to deploy a fleet of self-driving taxis on US public roads within the year. The details as to where the pilot will happen and exactly when it will start remain fuzzy but Lyft and GM confirm that the project is in the works and that electric Chevy Bolts will be the stars of the operation. Lyft users will be able to opt in or out of the programme.

GM invested $500M in Lyft back in January 2016 and followed that with the acquisition of self-driving tech company Cruise Automation for a reported $1Bn, so none of this is a shocker. However, the speed with which self-driving cabs will hit the roads and with which real people will be hailing them in a US city, is a surprise. Let’s see how long it takes Uber to respond with similar headlines.

In other news, Ford invested $182.2M in Pivotal, a cloud-based software specialist, to help transform the carmaker into “an auto and mobility company”. Pivotal is already involved in Ford’s new FordPass platform that offers drivers a suite of mobility services, from remote access via smartphone app to parking and car sharing. The investment will help expand FordPass services and launch new mobility projects like an on-demand Dynamic Shuttle pilot project.

BMW has launched BMW Labs, a platform that allows BMW drivers to test developing and near-final products at the cutting edge of connectivity. The Labs’ first focus is on smart homes, with users able to control smart-home devices like Nest or Samsung SmartThings from their cars.

BMW was also busy improving its ConnectedDrive platform. The carmaker announced a new partnership with music streaming service Deezer that adds 35M songs to the BMW entertainment database. ConnectedDrive now includes up-to-the-minute news and weather updates as well, plus the ability for emails to be read aloud at the push of a button.

HERE created a Supervisory Board to oversee its executive leadership team with the goal of making the company the beacon for mobility services in the coming years. Companies are up to this sort of stuff all the time but HERE’s new board is impressive in that it includes the former president and co-founder of Waze, as well as existing board members from BMW, Audi, and Daimler. A chief focus will be on making HERE a powerful enabler for self-driving cars beyond the control of Google.

On the fleet front, Norwegian company ABAX acquired two Swedish telematics firms, Accessor Sweden and Ctrack Sweden for undisclosed sums. The move brings the total number of vehicles under ABAX subscription to 152,000 and cements the company’s position as one of predominant commercial telematics companies in Europe.

The UK government wants businesses to deploy fleet telematics for the good of their bottom lines, the efficiency of their fleets and general safety on the road. The government’s Crown Commercial Service published an agreement developed in conjunction with police, ambulance, local government and central government customers and features a range of telematics suppliers, all of which are small- and medium-sized businesses.

Finally, isn’t it annoying when you miss a package at your home, only for it to disappear into the abyss of some delivery company’s warehouse? If you live in Stockholm and own a Volvo, you’re in luck: Volvo is launching a pilot with real-time delivery start-up urb-it to deliver packages to your car, no matter where it is in the city, within two hours of a purchase. You heard that correctly. The only catch is that packages have to be purchased through an urb-it-enabled store. Drivers grant one-time access to urb-it delivery folks, dubbed “urbers”, through a digital key.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.

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