|Just imagine you’ve landed at your destination after a long flight. You touch down and make your way through the terminal and on to baggage.
Suitcase in tow, you head for the arrivals pickup curb. No one was free to pick you up, but that’s not a problem — you can order an Uber.
Unfortunately, traffic at the pickup zone is horrendous — it’ll be a while before your Uber makes it through. Then — eureka! — the line of good ol’ fashioned taxis awaits you, unimpeded. You smile, hop in the back seat after placing your luggage in the trunk, and say, “I’m glad you were free, I’ve gotta get downtown by…”
It’s then that you realize you aren’t talking to anyone at all. You’re sitting in one of the world’s first robo-taxis: a fully autonomous vehicle.
That may sound like science fiction, but in truth, it could be just a year — nay, months — away. The biggest automakers in the world are gearing up for a robo-taxi revolution that could easily change the face of transportation forever.
Preparing for Battle
Case in point is the recent moves at the top of GM’s autonomous vehicle startup, Cruise. On Thursday, it was announced that GM President Dan Ammann will resign his corporate president role and take up the reigns as the CEO of the Cruise division. He is replacing Kyle Vogt, Cruise cofounder, who will stay on as president.
You might think the announcement means turmoil at Cruise’s San Francisco headquarters, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Mr. Vogt is just making the smart move for the company in handing over the reigns to Ammann — big things are about to happen, and an experienced executive of a MUCH larger organization is needed.
First, there’s the growth that has already happened at Cruise. Back in 2016, when GM bought Cruise (terms were not disclosed, but it’s estimated that it was ~$1 billion in cash and stock), it was just a three-year-old startup of 40 employees. Today, more than 1,000 staff the company’s Bay Area headquarters.
That number will almost certainly continue to move upward, while the planned opening of a Seattle office (which appears to be happening simply to add more engineering talent to the company’s ranks) will add even more moving parts to the mix.
Second are the company’s plans to launch a robo-taxi service in 2019. It hasn’t said where exactly, but given that its testing has taken place almost exclusively in San Francisco, we’d say that’s a pretty strong bet.
Ammann’s GM presidential skills are needed as a compliment to the tech-savvy Kyle Vogt’s own talents — not just because of the company’s own plans, but because a storm is brewing and it’s set to hit the roads of multiple U.S. cities over the next 12 to 24 months.
Cruise isn’t alone in its ambitions, either:
- Waymo, a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet, is set to launch the world’s very first driverless taxi service in Phoenix, Arizona, in December of this year. That’s this month, folks…
- Close by, Daimler and Bosch will be launching a driverless taxi service of their own based in San Jose, California.
- Not to be outdone, Ford too plans to test its own driverless taxis in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., starting early 2019.
- Zoox, yet another tech startup, aims to put out its own fully electric self-driving taxis next year as well.
- Tesla’s Elon Musk has long speculated that owners of Tesla’s cars will be able to “rent out” their own cars as taxis while not in use.
And of course…
- Uber and Lyft have both long planned to replace their human drivers with automation.
These companies are all racing to the finish line because they know there’s likely to be a few huge players when the dust settles. The duopoly of Uber and Lyft likely serves as a pretty solid model.
Winning the race means getting a huge chunk of an estimated $330 billion pie by 2026.
What You Need to Know
The real winner of all this competition is us, the consumers. The lack of a human driver means the cost of transportation will drop dramatically.
In advertising its robo-taxi plans, Ford stated that its large-scale rollout (slated for 2021) will likely feature taxi fares that are HALF of current Uber rates.
We’ve even heard rumors of Alphabet’s Waymo offering free rides in their robo-taxis — as long as you’re willing to watch a few ads as part of the deal.
It’s an exciting time for autonomous transportation enthusiasts. One thing is for sure based on all that was outlined above: 2019 could very well shape up to be the Year of the Autonomous Taxi.