The Driverless Commute, presented by Dentons: Will Trump’s tariff threat stifle AV development?; AV design dilemma: blend or go bold?; Ford hives out AV efforts in new firm; and Walmart grocery goes driverless

Welcome again to The Driverless Commute, presented by the global law firm Dentons, a weekly digest clocking the most important technical, legal and regulatory developments shaping the path to full autonomy.

1. OEM balkanization

The world’s biggest car-exporting nations convened an emergency meeting in Geneva today to forge a coordinated response to the threat of automotive tariffs by the United States.

The huddle, which includes representatives from Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Japan and the European Union, comes as US President Donald Trump has threatened 25 percent retaliatory levies that could hike sticker values of European- and Asian-imported cars by more than $10,000 per unit.

The decades-old US Trade Expansion Act empowers the president to impose duties, as recommended by his commerce secretary, on goods imported that pose a threat to the country’s “national security,” and the administration did just that with its imposition of sizable tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. President Trump has ordered a review of automotive imports under the law, but it’s unclear when the inquiry will be complete.

Already, a sort of balkanization of the global automotive order is developing.

Earlier this month Swedish car maker Volvo announced it would uproot the production of its US-intended XC60, which was being retrofitted for autonomous driving by at least one major US ridesharing firm, from China to Europe in hopes of avoiding some new fees.

But what could a fracturing of the global supply chain mean for the development of autonomous vehicles when the portfolio’s footprint is so expansive?

In the short-term, analysts believe car makers would need to subsidize sales to offset the initial shock to the market, which would in turn demand the re-appropriation of self-driving and electrification resources.

The Driverless Commute, a subscription-based service, is provided by Dentons’ global Autonomous Vehicles team. If you believe a colleague or associate would benefit from this service, please share this link so they may subscribe.

2. HEY, THIS IS A SELF-DRIVING CAR!

How last-mile delivery customers, pedestrians and other motorists will perceive and react to self-driving vehicles remains one of the biggest unkowns in the technology’s development.

Some, like Cruise and Waymo, are hoping to lessen the shock by pursuing a strategy of unobtrusive camouflage, even launching public relations campaigns to demonstrate their tech’s very uneventful operation.

And then there are those who are a little less chastened, like California-based Drive.ai, the self-driving startup that went public on Monday a Level 4 ride-hailing service in a Dallas, TX, suburb with dayglow-orange-painted Nissan minivans emblazoned with the words “self-driving vehicle” and tricked out with a suite of four LED screens to convey messages to pedestrians or others in close proximity.

(The strategy is remiscient of the candy-colored paint scheme that has conditioned drivers to be deferential to school buses.)

The screens are an attempt to simulate the physical gestures and verbal cues that human drivers use to communicate with pedestrians today. Messages include: “Waiting,” “Crossing,” “Going,” “Entering/Exiting,” and “Human Driver” when the car is operating in manual mode.

The new service, which will initially include a human safety driver who will be removed by year end, will operate a two-square mile geofenced area that includes The Star, a 91-acre sports and entertainment district that serves as the headquarters for the Dallas Cowboys.

Beyond the minivans’ unique human-robot interactions system, Drive.ai has been working with the city, whose population numbers just 170,000, to set fixed pickup and drop-off locations, and to educate the public about the technology and the pilot test.

Consumer confidence in autonomy has never been remarkable—particularly so in recent months after a spate of high-profile self-driving crashes—but efforts like Drive.ai’s are an earnest (if not elegant) attempt to assuage the public’s concerns before they spiral out of control.

3. Know it before your competitors

Our best-in-industry intelligence service, The Console, marries machine learning algorithms with human analysis to create comprehensive, real-time advisories on everything autonomy.

The Console monitors, digests and packages everything of consequence to your business: television and radio chatter, social media scoops, legislative and regulatory activity, legal filings, acquisitions and white papers.

A service of Dentons’ 3D Global Affairs, which yokes traditional legal capabilities to government affairs, corporate competitive analysis and strategic communications, The Console mines the public record to populate an easy-to-navigate platform. Click here to request a no-obligation demonstration of the service with James and Eric.

4. The Auto(nomous)bahn

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Eric Tanenblatt

About Eric Tanenblatt

Eric Tanenblatt is the Global Chair of Public Policy and Regulation of Dentons, the world's largest law firm. He also leads the firm's US Public Policy Practice, leveraging his three decades of experience at the very highest levels of the federal and state governments.

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James Richardson

About James Richardson

James Richardson is a strategic communications counselor with 15 years’ experience advising presidential candidates, Global Fortune 500 executives, national nonprofits, and sovereign governments on strategic communications and reputation management. He helps lead Dentons’ 3D Global Affairs practice.

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