Weekly Brief: Uber drivers to lose out to self-driving Mercedes-Benz

Daimler becomes the first carmaker to jump on the open Uber ridesharing network. Andrew Tolve reports.

The day when anyone can hail a self-driving Uber is rapidly approaching and, thanks to a new partnership with Daimler, the car that shows up may well be a Mercedes-Benz. Daimler announced last week that it will build its own cars with its own self-driving tech on-board but, once those cars are deployed, they will operate on Uber’s ridesharing network.

This is a change of direction for Uber and, probably, a smart one. The ridesharing giant has partnered with car companies before, most notably Volvo and Ford for the self-driving pilot that’s underway in Pittsburgh. But those partnerships have used Uber self-driving technology inside other carmakers’ vehicles. This latest move to open up Uber’s platform to other carmakers allows Uber to pass the buck on the manufacturing front while still cashing in on its core competencies as a business.

No word yet on how much of a cut Uber will take from Daimler on each ride. It also remains to be seen how many carmakers jump onboard the open Uber network. Most carmakers already have rival ridesharing initiatives underway (Daimler, for instance, owns ridesharing subsidiary Car2Go). Then again, no carmaker has the built-in customer base that Uber has and, most of them, lack the large-scale dispatch and routing systems needed to pull off ridesharing on a global scale.

In other news, Dutch oil behemoth Shell is going green. The company revealed that while it doesn’t plan to ratchet down its oil drilling anytime soon, it has decided to install electric vehicle charging centres at fuel stations throughout the UK and the Netherlands. The company is vague on specific numbers but it says the growing number of EV sales demands a response and that construction will begin in the first half of 2017. French oil company Total announced that it is considering doing the same thing at service stations in France.

Indian automaker Tata Motors wants to lead the mobile revolution on the Indian subcontinent and it has launched a new mobility division called TAMO to make it happen. TAMO will act as an incubating centre for novel mobile services and technologies. It also will look to team with other innovation hubs across the globe and to work with start-ups in the emerging space.   

Self-driving cars are getting safer and smarter, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ Autonomous Vehicle Disengagement Reports 2016. The reports catalogue the number of times that humans need to retake control in robot cars on California roads owing to technical errors. Waymo, Google’s self-driving company, was leading the pack, with just one intervention required every 5,128 miles. That’s a 19% improvement since last year. GM Cruise of General Motors came in second place with one intervention every 414 miles driven and Nissan came in third with one intervention every 247 miles driven — as compared to one intervention every 14 miles in 2015. You can read the full report here.

American ridesharing company RideCell is opening a new headquarters in Munich, Germany, from where it plans to expand its service throughout Europe and the Asia-Pacific. The company is feeling good coming off its success in the US where its flagship customer ReachNow, BMW's new mobility business, has acquired 40,000 customers in its first nine months.

Mobile company O2 launched a car insurance option for its mobile customers, complete with a driver assessment tool called Box on Board. The programme gives customers the potential to secure discounts up front with a small telematics device installed alongside their car battery. Drivers can access their driving scores via the O2 Drive app, along with tips that could encourage safer driving and keep or improve their no claims discount.

Finally, tired of parsing the fine print of your owner’s manual anytime a problem arises under your hood or behind your dash? Buy a Subaru. The carmaker launched a new digital in-dash guide as part of its infotainment program Starlink on all 2017 vehicles. The Quick Guide app distils all the critical information of the User Guide into easily accessible bites of text and graphics on the touchscreen. Subaru says that it hopes to go entirely paperless in the future with Quick Guide’s help.

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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