BMW will begin testing self-driving vehicles next year in Munich, as part of its move into the on-demand taxi service market currently dominated by Uber, Lyft, and others.
The initial self-driving vehicle pilot will, as elsewhere, feature “test drivers” behind the wheel, to keep an eye on the performance of the self-driving system and take over if need be. The Munich pilot project will feature around 40 vehicles operating solely within the inner city region, reportedly.
The plan is to expand the project to other cities if things go smoothly, company execs have revealed.
“There is a trained test driver behind the wheel of every car,” stated Klaus Buettner, BMW’s Vice President in charge of Autonomous Driving.
Reuters provides more: “Uber’s rapid growth has prompted BMW to consider how autonomous vehicles may help them accelerate their own push into pay-per-use transport. Software and technology companies like Lyft, Juno, and Uber have shaken up the traditional auto industry business model of selling cars by offering customers an alternative to vehicle ownership through smartphone-based ride-hailing services. Now traditional car companies are expanding their own ride-hailing schemes, while investing in self-driving technology.”
The Head of Strategy for BMW’s mobility services, Tony Douglas, commented on this: “Ride hailing is nothing more than manual autonomous driving. Once you dispense with the driver you have a license to print money.”
Drawing a comparison with the fairly rapid growth of operations in its ReachNow carsharing service in Seattle (Washington, US), Douglas stated: “We had 14,000 people sign up in 4 days, in a market already served by Zipcar, Uber, Lyft, and Car2go. Someone else spent the money to educate the market and then we came in with a cool product. We will not be the largest, but we can be the coolest.”
Well that remains to be seen, but BMW does hold an advantage over Uber, Lyft, etc., in that it can manufacture its own vehicles rather than having to rely on complex purchase agreements with companies that have their own interests. It also has some historical brand bonuses.
“Uber and Lyft do not operate their own fleets of cars. Owning the fleet means you can make offers that Lyft and others are unable to provide. For example providing car sharing for a specific community only,” stated BMW’s CEO Harald Krueger.
Notably, BMW also just recently created a venture capital fund of up to €500 million “to make investments in a wider range of areas, such as autonomous driving and digitalisation, and to secure continued access to the technologies of the future.” On-demand taxi service is certainly a part of this. Going on: “BMW i Ventures’ previous focus on mobility services and electro-mobility will be expanded to cover the BMW Group’s full innovation spectrum in all areas of Strategy Number ONE > NEXT, even those outside of the traditional automotive value chain. Future topics for exploration will focus on ‘Enabling Technology and Digital Vehicle Technology’, ‘Mobility and Digital Services’, ‘Customer Experience’ and ‘Advanced Production Technology’.”
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