Weekly Brief: GM wants EV robo-taxi service operational by 2019

The number one US automaker sees autonomous ride-hailing as its key money maker in the near future. Andrew Tolve reports.

As the auto world descended on Tinseltown for the annual LA Auto Show, General Motors stole the spotlight four hundred miles to the north, where it hosted a demonstration for the media of its all-electric self-driving car fleet in San Francisco. The event went off without a hitch; there were no accidents or even close calls to speak of as journalists cruised around busy downtown San Francisco. Two days later, GM President Dan Ammann gave journalists a real headline to run with as he announced that GM plans to launch fleets of robo-taxis in large scale in several cities by 2019.

That will make GM the first major automaker to have a commercial fleet of self-driving cars on the road and it likely will put it at the front of the pack among tech players like Waymo, Uber and Lyft, if it can deliver on its date. GM said the profit potential of autonomous ridesharing is unheard of in the automotive world. Whereas a typical GM vehicle today delivers about $30,000 (£22,245) to the company in revenue, Ammann expects electric robo-taxis to deliver a dollar of revenue per mile and as much as several hundred thousands of dollars over the course of the vehicle’s lifetime.

Sticking in the Bay Area, a new bombshell dropped in the WaymoUber lawsuit, in which Waymo alleges that Uber stole autonomous technology trade secrets. It turns out that a former Uber intelligence employee, named Richard Jacobs, sued Uber for wrongful termination back in May 2017; in the process he wrote a letter to the US Attorney’s office in which he claimed that Uber’s intelligence department was actively trying to swipe trade secrets from competitors like Waymo and was deliberately covering up its actions with disappearing messaging apps. It is alleged that Uber’s lawyers deliberately hid the letter during the discovery phase with Waymo lawyers but the US Attorney’s office forwarded it directly to the presiding judge in the case, William Alsup. “Poor Uber, I don't feel sorry for you because you brought all this on yourself,” Judge Alsup said. Don’t forget, Uber’s entire robo-taxi programme is on the line here.

LA Auto Showroundup

In a keynote address Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced a partnership with Warner Brothers to develop in-cabin, immersive experiences for autonomous cars. We’re not talking about movies and TV shows here; picture a fan of the superhero Batman transforming his or her ride into something that feels like the Batmobile courtesy of virtual reality, while augmented reality capabilities overlay the outside world with Gotham-like features and timely advertising. That’s what Intel and Warner are going for. First step is a proof-of-concept car currently under works.

Hyundai wants to allow businesses to directly connect with Hyundai vehicles with Blue Link. This connection would allow mobile car washing, grocery delivery and on-demand fuel delivery companies to securely access Hyundai vehicle functions, such as the vehicle’s location, remote locking/unlocking and data – so long as the vehicle owner approves. Hyundai is working on a 2018 pilot programme in California with connected car company Smartcar.

Mercedes-Benz held the world premiere for its CLS 2019, which comes with wireless charging and near-field-communication pairing capabilities for smartphones, a widescreen infotainment system and a digital gauge display. It also includes car-to-x communication, although Mercedes is mum on exactly what that will mean for drivers. Launch expected in fall 2018.

Infiniti unveiled its completely redesigned 2019 QX50. The car comes with a variable compression engine under the hood that can adapt to the kind of driving you’re in the mood for, be it power and performance or eco-friendly efficiency. The car is also the first Infiniti to come with Nissan’s semi-autonomous adaptive cruise control system, ProPilot Assist, which debuted on the 2018 Nissan Leaf EV.

Finally, in Europe the EU’s vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) pilot project, codenamed SCOOP, is moving into the active pilot phase around Paris. Renault has produced 1,000 SCOOP-enabled Mégane cars and is looking for customers to integrate the vehicles into their fleets. The cars are fitted with sensors and computers that gather and analyse vehicle data like speed, airbag deployment and possible tyre grip problems owing to weather. If a problem is detected, the car’s on-board computer automatically sends a warning message to other SCOOP-enabled vehicles and to units positioned along motorways, which in turn notify emergency services if a major incident is detected.

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

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