Weekly Brief: Uber finally finds its automaker partner in Toyota

You can only poke a sleeping bear for so long. First General Motors needled Uber with a $500M (£342M) investment in Lyft back in January. Then Apple jabbed the ridesharing giant two weeks ago with a $1Bn investment in Uber’s rival in China, Didi Chuxing. Last week Volkswagen followed suit by investing $300M in Uber’s European rival Gett, with the aim of achieving a self-driving ridesharing platform by 2025.

The same day as the VW announcement, the bear finally woke up. Uber and Toyota announced a new memorandum of understanding to explore collaborative opportunities around the world. Both companies stayed mum on many of the details but we do know that Toyota Financial Services invested an undisclosed sum in Uber. We know that Toyota will allow Uber drivers to lease vehicles from Toyota and pay for those leases via Uber earnings. We also know that Toyota and Uber plan to design special in-car apps for Uber drivers.

Unmentioned as of yet, but obvious to pretty much everyone, is that the two will partner on self-driving cars as well. Toyota is an emerging leader in self-driving tech and, with Lyft and GM already announcing a pilot that will use self-driving cars with real Lyft customers, surely Uber is feeling the pressure to stay abreast of its competition?

The day after the Toyota-Uber announcement, BMW i Ventures announced an investment of undisclosed sum in Scoop. The ridesharing app targets big companies to offer their employees affordable, effective transportation options. This may just be an investment for BMW or, like the other carmakers above, it may be the launch pad for a larger integration into BMW cars, both traditional and self-driving.

In other news, Michigan has been the hub of automotive innovation in the US for the past hundred years and it wants to keep it that way for the next hundred. State senators introduced a series of bills last week that would make Michigan the friendliest terrain for autonomous vehicle development and testing anywhere this side of the prime meridian. The laws would allow carmakers to test self-driving cars on all public roads in the state, would allow the testing of self-driving cars without a driver behind the wheel (a big difference from California) and would make fleets of self-driving cars for ridesharing programmes legal immediately. They also would pave the way for a new testing centre in Ann Arbor, to go along with its existing mCity plant.

The same day as the new laws hit the Michigan state senate floor, Google announced that it plans to build a new 53,000-square-foot development centre in Novi, Michigan, that would be exclusively focused on self-driving cars. The goal is to give Google a home base close to many of its partners. The first focus: to ready Google’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans.

Daimler launched a business accelerator in Stuttgart called Startup Autobahn. The three-month programme will play host to a dozen or so start-ups that focus on “mobility at the intersection of hardware and software”. That includes internet of things, cyber security, location-based services and natural language processing. The accelerator is currently accepting applications and will make a final selection from 25 start-ups on July 14, 2016.

Finally, the more we rely on software in our cars, the more prone that software becomes for failures and glitches. That’s the conclusion from J.D. Power’s latest batch of data collected through its SafetyIQ programme. The data shows that consumer complaints about vehicle software in 2016 are on pace with those in 2015, which was the highest year on record. The six brands that are performing the worst: Tesla, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Isuzu and SMART.

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

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