The ranks of startups and corporations working in auto tech have grown unabated, with investors and executives drawn to the promise of an autonomous, connected, electrified, and shared vehicle future.
Although a handful of companies like Tesla and startup Zoox are targeting the full range of technologies to bring robotaxis to market, others have struck a dizzying range of partnerships to bridge knowledge gaps and pool developmental resources.
More agreements were made this week, with Alphabet’s Waymo teaming with Lyft to explore driverless pilots and Delphi joining the BMW-Intel-Mobileye development alliance. (Meanwhile, a new report also reveals that Tesla rebuffed a proposed partnership from Uber last year.)
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Going to market with autonomy
While much attention remains focused on perfecting the technology of autonomy proper, going to market with self-driving vehicles will be a complex problem of its own.
Engineering and deployment strategies will have to balance speed to market with caution. A survey conducted by AAA found nearly three-quarters of the US driving public apprehensive about riding in a self-driving car; rushed or botched rollouts of these vehicles might stick in consumers’ minds and hamper the initial adoption of self-driving tech.
Waymo is taking a cautious approach, with its slow-and-steady ramp to public testing and new hardware revealed this week to allay the fears of riders. Other players like Tesla are clearly favoring speed and getting products in their buyers’ hands.
Determining consumer willingness-to-pay and optimizing for profit will also be interesting challenges, as incumbent automakers further up the stack weigh direct vehicle sales against fleet deployment. (We highlighted a Cornell study that found US drivers would be willing to pay an average of $5k for full autonomy.)
Building shared robotaxi fleets is an alluring prospect, but would require yet more capital and expertise on top of driverless R&D itself before stakeholders can begin to recoup their investments. And as observers have pointed out, the robotaxi partnerships being formed may have to hash out the messy details of distributing eventual revenue.
From direct sales and robotaxis to other sharing models, there are several potential paths to the consumer across the autonomous driving stack. What do you think will be the best path to market for the first autonomous vehicles?
P.S. My colleague Nikhil (@nikillinit), who has launched our new digital health newsletter, highlighted some automaker health initiatives in a recent issue. Check it out and sign up for coverage on all things digital health.