In a new power play in autonomous vehicle market-share grab, Uber is rumored to be planning to purchase – or may have already placed an order for – thousands of Mercedes-Benz self-driving vehicles.
According to a report by German media outlet Manager Magazin, Uber placed a huge order to buy 100,000 of the carmaker’s S-Class, with a total price tag of nearly $12 billion.
While details of the deal have yet to be made public, one source at Uber told Reuters that the firm wanted a lot of autonomous vehicles. “It seemed like they were shopping around,” the source said.
No secret that Uber’s been kicking tires
Uber could be perhaps interested in Mercedes because it has been testing semi-autonomous driving technologies for some time now. In July 2015, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was reported to have said that if they were autonomous, he’d buy “every Tesla they can produce” at peak production in 2020– or about 500,000 cars.
While fully self-driving vehicles are still several years off, assistive technologies are becoming more widespread in today’s vehicles, include adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping and lane-changing assistance, active brake assist, evasive steering and active blind spot monitoring.
The ride-hailing firm may have been spooked into the move by recent news of General Motors investing heavily in its rival, Lyft, to develop autonomous vehicles.
According to a report on fleet management website ABR, the San Francisco-based firm is planning for a self-driving fleet by 2020. That means for the gig economy, the gig may be up already – Uber’s plan would mean big cuts to their driver rolls, which is their largest cost factor.
And recent headlines on driver behavior have not helped the firm, serving not only as a cost but as a source of several service complaints and legal issues in the recent times.
Legislation on self-driving cars still an issue
Apart from the technological hurdles, legislation has also been a major roadblock for autonomous vehicles to hit the streets.
With present legislations making it compulsory for qualified drivers to be inside the vehicle and be ready to take the steering in hands at a moment’s notice, it can be quite hard to even test a self-driving car.
Google, which launched its own self-driving car project in 2014, has been working on state legislators across the country to pass legislation allowing manufacturers of self-driving cars to test them out on real roads.
So far, four states and District of Columbia have permitted limited testing of self-driving cars on roads. California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) released draft autonomous vehicle deployment regulations in late 2015 for public comment, but as of yet, no autonomous cars are permitted on the state’s roadways.
“The primary focus of the deployment regulations is the safety of autonomous vehicles and the safety of the public who will share the road with these vehicles,” said California DMV director, Jean Shiomoto. “We want to get public input on these draft regulations before we initiate the formal regulatory rule making process.”