Driveless car, the pressure from car manufacturers is getting tougher

The driverless car is now a challenge to “who get to his place first”: the Japanese Honda and Toyota, just reported huge investments challenging the dominance of Waymo (which is still the leading one in the industry).

20 Oct 2018

On October 4 this year, Honda revealed to have invested $2.75 billion in Cruise, the driverless division of General Motors. The aim is to develop a driverless car that can be produced in large numbers by GM, seeking to launch a commercial fleet of fully-automated cars as early as next year, and get the target before Ford. 

Honda is going to invest $750 million in the project and a further $2 billion over the next 12 years, resulting in a 5.7% stake in the US company GM Cruise Holdings (valued at $14.6 billion), the driverless division of General Motors. 

In GM Cruise Holdings, another important share, 19.6%, is held by Vision Fund, the maxifund (the largest in the world) of the Japanese TLC player Softbank which, no later than 4 months ago, had invested a further 2.25 billion dollars. 

Softbank also entered into an agreement with the Japanese Toyota on October 4 to work together both in the field of the driverless car and in that of mobility services: as Softbank’s CEO, Masayoshi Son, explained, this partnership represents “the beginning of a new phase to ensure an unexpected level of mobility”. The agreement between the two companies (both having stakes in Uber) provides for the establishment of a joint venture, called Monet Technologies, held 50.25% by the operator TLC and 49.75% by the car manufacturer. The goal is to produce the first driverless car in the second half of 2020 on the basis of the e-Palette Toyota prototype. 

In short, besides the big tech companies that first believed and invested in the development of driverless cars, Google first, the game is now being played by the big car manufacturers, which in a complex mix of alliances and investments, speed up their market penetration with regard to the car of the future, where the “fleet” sector will be the forerunner. 

Among the tech giants besides Waymo (Google spin-off), we can find private transport companies such as Uber or Lyft at the forefront; among the car manufacturers, Ford and General Motors (owner of Cruise Automation) are particularly outstanding. Companies from different backgrounds aiming at the same purpose: creating driverless business transport service, which can be used by the customer through an app. Just what Uber or Lyft already do, with a crucial difference: no driver anymore. 

Test progress? Business Insider summarized it in a table, where data concerning the most important tests carried out in 2016 by the major manufacturers of the driverless car are analyzed, focusing on the results obtained by Level 4 vehicles. 

According to SAE International (Society of Automotive Engineers, responsible for developing and defining engineering standards for any type of motor vehicle, including cars, trucks, ships and aircraft), Level 4 and Level 5 represent the highest levels of autonomy that a self-driving car can reach: Level 4 refers to cars that can travel on a stand-alone basis only in specific conditions, while Level 5 refers to cars that can travel on a stand-alone basis in any event, with no need for a steering wheel, rudder pedals or human driver. 

To date, no Level 5 driverless car road tests have been carried out, but some companies are already testing Level 4 cars. 

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