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.
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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
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4. The Auto(nomous)bahn
- Ford has spun out its self-driving efforts into a new venture with an initial investment of $4 billion through the next five years.
- Car rental firm Hertz Corp has inked a deal to maintain the driverless fleet of Aptiv, which earlier this year launched a 30-vehicle self-driving pilot in Las Vegas, NV. The tie-up is the latest in a string of at least four deals between car rental firms and car makers or technology companies to oversee the complexities of fleet ownership.
- Transportation regulators in Pennsylvania have updated the state’s voluntary guidelines for autonomous testing, asking companies to use a second safety driver when cars are traveling over 25 mph or, if using only one fallback operator, to provide additional safety training.
- Walmart and Waymo announced last week that they will launch a pilot program to ferry Walmart customers from their homes to the store and back to make grocery pickups when they place an order from the retailer’s website.