Nissan, Renault, Mitsubishi Hunting for Robo-taxi Deals With Tech Companies

Easy Ride test vehicle with DeNA

The alliance consisting of Nissan, Renault, and Mitsubishi Motors is currently searching for partners for a plunge into the robo-taxi business. While chairman Carlos Ghosn claims mobility will never replace traditional ownership, he acknowledges the need to explore other avenues to remain competitive.

“A lot of people think this is substitution. It’s not — it’s addition,� Ghosn said in November. “The traditional business of building cars and selling cars and owning cars is going to continue.�

However, the supplemental businesses aren’t going off half-cocked. Ogi Redzic, Alliance senior vice president, has said he’s personally overseeing about 1,000 employees tasked with developing connectivity services for the automotive group and intends to announce the partners for the new autonomous cab service in the coming months. 

“Tech companies aren’t going to build and sell cars to our current customers,” Redzic told Bloomberg. For them, autonomous technology enables and enhances their core businesses, he said. “We envision that partnerships are possible.”

Whether those partnerships will include Uber, Lyft, or Waymo is unknown. If the Alliance chooses to start a competitive service, rather than simply building self-driving cabs for sale, there would be little reason for ride-hailing firms to back the venture. Then again, Uber partnered with General Motors on its Maven program despite the service seeming like it could eventually evolve into something capable of hurting the ride-hailing company.

As for Nissan, Renault, Mitsubishi, the trio will have to make some progress before similar concerns are addressed. Combined, the companies invested a total of $8.3 billion in research and development last year, which is on par with General Motors. But GM still appears to be in the lead when it comes to autonomous development.

From Bloomberg:

The alliance has already reached some agreements to share the RD burden. Nissan works with mobile-games editor DeNA on autonomous cabs to be tested in Yokohama next year, while Renault teamed up with French transportation-services provider Transdev to develop self-driving fleets. The alliance signed a deal with Microsoft last year to co-invest on developing back-end cloud technology fit for autonomous vehicles.

Other automakers have made similar deals. Volvo and Daimler have teamed up with Uber. A driverless-car alliance announced Thursday pairing Volkswagen Group and Hyundai Motor with the startup Aurora will develop vehicles for Moia, VW’s electric ride-hailing network.

Nissan’s plan for autonomous technology isn’t nearly as clear. Its definitely interested in development but it appears to be taking a less headstrong approach in terms of deployment. Ghosn said as much when he suggested the market hadn’t settled enough for any automaker to make a bulletproof decision on how to best implement side businesses. But the Alliance also cannot afford to be left behind by ignoring RD.

“Autonomous cars will bring more value to our existing customers,” Redzic explained. “The vehicle itself is valuable and also services will generate a lot of value. We want to take a fair share.”

[Image: Nissan]