Your Future Uber Might Be A Self-Driving Mercedes
Daimler, the maker of luxury Mercedes-Benz autos and commercial trucks, will supply self-driving vehicles for use on Uber’s network as the ride-hailing company works to open its platform to automakers.
The arrangement calls for vehicles equipped with autonomous drive technology developed in-house by Daimler to go into service for Uber “in the coming years,” the company’s said in a joint statement on Tuesday. Uber began testing self-driving cars last year in Pittsburgh, modified Ford Fusion sedans and Volvo XC90 SUVs, equipped with its own system. It briefly expanded the test service to San Francisco in December before a dispute with California’s Department of Motor Vehicles led to it pull the plug and ship its test fleet to Arizona.
“Auto manufacturers like Daimler are crucial to our strategy because Uber has no experience making cars—and in fact, making cars is really hard,” Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO said in a blog post. “That’s why instead of building them ourselves, we want to partner with the best auto manufacturers in the world.”
The precise timing of when automated Mercedes-Benz vehicles will join Uber’s network wasn’t disclosed, nor were financial terms of the arrangement. A company spokeswoman declined to elaborate.
In addition to each company’s efforts to develop driverless vehicle tech, both also see a future for self-driving commercial trucks, Daimler with its Highway Pilot initiative and Uber through Otto, a maker of automated driving systems for 18-wheel semi-trucks.
Kalanick noted in his post that he and Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler’s management board and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, debated the future of mobility and autonomous transportation in Berlin last year. Zetsche said at the time the companies could be “frenemies.”
Seven months later they’re forming a partnership of sorts.
“We seek to combine our strengths,” Zetsche, said in a statement. “The real revolution in future mobility lies in intelligently linking the four major trends we call CASE: connectivity, autonomous driving, sharing and electric mobility. And we will certainly be the driver of these changes.”
The Uber project isn’t Daimler’s first move into mobility services. It already has a carsharing subsidiary, Car2Go, that makes Smart minicars
available to use by the hour via a mobile app. It’s also a part-owner of HERE, a digital mapping consortium shared with BMW and Audi that’s to provide crucial real-time data to each company’s self-driving technology programs.
While Uber dominates on-demand ride-hailing in the U.S. and many markets, it’s transition to a fully automated mobility service, without human drivers, will be a challenge if it lacks automotive partners to supply vehicles. Getting Daimler and others embrace that role will be an ongoing task.