Weekly Brief: GM full steam ahead with ridesharing, while insurers get the autonomous shakes

Uber who? Google what? If General Motors (GM) is supposed to be intimidated by the tech giants of the autonomous driving and ridesharing space, the carmaker certainly isn’t showing it. A couple weeks after pouring $500M (£344M) into ridesharing service Lyft, GM bought up all the technology and assets of third-place ridesharing service Sidecar, which shut down at the end of 2015. GM will absorb 20 of Sidecar’s employees into the GM Urban Mobility team.

Then GM turned around and launched Maven, a new car-sharing service of its own. The service in and of itself isn’t all that impressive: a Zipcar-esque deployment of 21 cars in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that faculty and students can reserve and unlock through an app on their smartphones. Big whoop, right? But when combined with GM’s other recent investments, it becomes clear pretty quickly that Maven is a stepping stone in a much larger, more ambitious play. GM wants in on the self-driving ride-sharing future and it’s determined to forge the path for how we get there.

In other news, 11 auto insurers in the UK banded together to iron out issues for insuring self-driving cars. And boy are there some issues that need ironing out, the biggest being who’s liable after an accident in a self-driving car: the driver, the carmaker, the supplier behind the autonomous tech? Another one: how do insurers make money in a world in which humans, who are responsible for 94% of accidents, are no longer behind the wheel? The Association of British Insurers and Thatcham Research will helm the new group.

A month after announcing that it would finally jump into the autonomous car race with Google, Chinese search giant Baidu completed its first fully autonomous test run in Beijing. The car, a BMW 3 series pimped out with Baidu sensors, managed 18.6 miles of hectic Beijing traffic without a single intervention. U-turns, right turns, left turns and highway driving included. In December, Baidu announced the creation of a new business unit specifically focused on building autonomous cars.

Back to ridesharing, start-up WaiveCar out of Los Angeles launched its first fleet of 20 electric vehicles in Santa Monica and Venice Beach. Unlike GM’s initial Maven rollout, WaiveCar’s debut is an interesting twist on the Zipcar phenomenon. Namely, it’s free. For the first two hours at least. That’s because the cars (Chevy Sparks) are covered in poster adverts. Wherever drivers decide to go, they become moving billboards. After two hours, the rate jumps to just $5.99. Pretty clever.

Faraday Future, the enigmatic, deep-pocketed California start-up that fashions itself as the next Tesla, released a free augmented reality app for its new FFZERO1 electric vehicle concept car, which debuted at CES. After printing out a picture of the FFZERO1, fans can explore the cockpit, the carbon fibre body and the exterior of the car in pixelated 3D. It remains to be seen if Faraday Future ever lives up to its own hype but it sure has proven adept at keeping up the intrigue.

Finally, a breakthrough for self-parking the US: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has conceded that existing Federal Motor Vehicle standards are too vague and, thus, unnecessarily prohibitive when it comes to self-parking. Specifically, federal standards demand that the service brake be “depressed” — ie stepped on — when shifting from park into gear. Which is obviously tough if no one is in the car. BMW won the concession in regards to its Park Assistant Plus remote control parking technology in the 2016 BMW 7 Series.

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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