Weekly Brief: Waymo, Ford & GM ramp up US investment

Waymo is ready to more than double the size of its robo-taxi service in Arizona, the company revealed last week.

It plans to open a new technical service center for its autonomous vehicles in Mesa, Arizona, to ramp up capacity. The new center should be open by summer and will serve as a second command central for Waymo’s robo-taxi service, helping with dispatch and maintenance for Waymo’s growing fleet. Mesa sits on the southeastern edge of Phoenix, just north of Chandler, where Waymo launched its robo-taxi service last autumn.

This is a far cry from opening the floodgates on a nationwide service. Waymo’s current fleet is about 400, so it’s reasonable, based on what the company has said, to expect the fleet size to approach 1,000 by the end of the year. That’s a drop in the ocean when you consider that there are about a quarter of a million taxi drivers in America, 1.4 million Lyft drivers and close to a million Uber drivers. Granted, many Lyft and Uber drivers overlap but the point stands: there are a lot of traditional taxi and new-age ride-hailing drivers on the road and, by comparison, very few Waymo vehicles. Nonetheless, the new technical service center in Mesa is a positive sign (assuming you don’t that a view shared by some autonomous experts), because it shows Waymo is ready to grow and may be on course to launch a more nationwide service come 2020.

Speaking of growth in the AV sector, Ford revealed that it’s investing $50M to open a new AV manufacturing center near Detroit, Michigan. Ford won’t actually build its self-driving cars at the factory; that will happen at a different facility in Flat Rock, Michigan. The cars will then travel north to the new center in Detroit, where they’ll pick up their self-driving software. Ford says it’s still on track to sell its AVs commercially by 2021.

Ford had more news out of Flat Rock last week. The automaker said that it plans to build its next generation of electric vehicles entirely in the US, rather than in Mexico. It will invest $850M into its facility in Flat Rock to ramp up production capacity. Ford’s next generation of electrification will include 16 new EVs by 2022. The most hotly anticipated of those is a crossover Mustang.

General Motors had news on the EV front as well. The automaker reversed its plans to build its new Chevy EV in Mexico and instead will produce the vehicle at an assembly plant in Orion Township, Michigan. The Orion plant is where GM currently produces the Chevy Bolt. GM will invest an additional $300M to increase capacity at the plant for the Chevy EV. The reversal is a victory for US workers and for President Trump, who panned GM’s decision to move production south of the border. GM says it will add 400 jobs at the Orion plant to focus on the new Chevy EV. No news yet on what the vehicle will look like or when it will hit the market.

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