nissan easy ride driverless car

Nissan to begin testing driverless taxi service in direct competition with Uber

Image credit: reuters

Nissan is to start testing an autonomous vehicle ride-sharing service, putting it in direct competition with the likes of Uber and Google.

Field tests of its ‘Easy Ride’ service will take place in Yokohama, Japan next month, making it one of the first major automakers to test ride-hailing software developed in-house, using its own fleet of self-driving electric cars.

During the field test, in the Minatomirai district of Yokohama, participants will be able to travel in vehicles equipped with autonomous driving technology along a set route.

The route spans about 4.5km between Nissan’s global headquarters and the Yokohama World Porters shopping centre.

Nissan wants to launch ‘Easy Ride’ in Japan in the early 2020s and has designed it to feel more like a concierge service on wheels, making restaurant recommendations, for example, while the car is on the move.

Using a dedicated mobile app, passengers can input what they want to do via text or voice and choose from a list of recommended destinations. An in-car tablet screen will show selections of nearly 500 recommended places of interest and events in the vicinity.

The announcement follows an agreement by Nissan and its automaking partners Renault and Mitsubishi earlier this month to explore future cooperation with Chinese transportation services conglomerate Didi Chuxing.

These moves mark a push by the automaker to avoid becoming the “Foxconn of the auto industry”: a mere vehicle supplier to ride and car-sharing companies.

“We realise that it’s going to take time to become a service operator, but we want to enter into this segment by partnering with companies which are experts in the field,” said Hiroto Saikawa, Nissan’s chief executive.

Creating an upscale autonomous taxi service, rather than trying to beat other companies on price, could help Nissan against bigger competitors like Uber, market experts say.

“By doing something with a more premium feel, it could allow Nissan to charge more for its service and potentially relieve some of that profitability pressure they could face if they were to try to race to the bottom in terms of pricing,” said Jeremy Carlson, automotive analyst at IHS Markit.

Automakers are looking for ways to profit from the rise of car-sharing services, which along with self-driving cars are likely to lead to decreased vehicle ownership and chip away at future profits.

IHS Markit expects global sales of autonomous vehicles will soar to more than 33 million units in 2040 from 51,000 in 2021, while Goldman Sachs has predicted that the ride-hailing market will grow eightfold by 2030 to be five times the current size of the taxi market.

Google’s driverless spin-off Waymo is also moving forward with a driverless taxi service after Arizona became the first US state to approve it for commercial operations without a human driver last month. 

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