The Hyundai Motor Company tested an autonomous ride-sharing service in California for three months. It’s the latest corporation to show an interest in offering self-driving cars for future passengers. But why is a car manufacturer trying to make an autonomous taxi service?
The BotRide service
Hyundai launched BotRide to evaluate consumer response. The three-month, on-demand service used self-driving cars, but there were always two safety drivers inside in case anything went wrong.
Hyundai worked with Pony.ai and Via to create the service. It was only available in the Irvine, California, area for a limited time since it was a test project. The company offered free rides with no charge to a small group of people who signed up and were approved. All the cars were 100% electric Hyundai Kona vehicles, so the company emphasized the green factor of using the service.
As a closed beta pilot, BotRide gave Hyundai the opportunity to test self-driving cars and autonomous ride-sharing at the same time in a limited area. Users downloaded an app to use the service, which resembled the ones from Uber and Lyft. The entire process gave the company ample opportunities to collect data that can be useful later.
The small fleet of ten cars was only a test, but it’s part of a larger movement to obtain information that would make autonomous vehicles accessible to everyone. Robot taxis are just another way to gather data about self-driving.
Hyundai plans to invest $35 billion over the next five years on automation and electric cars. This large investment indicates the car manufacturer wants to compete with Tesla and others. For example, Toyota plans to offer self-driving services during the next Olympics. And Ford wants to start a fleet of autonomous, ride-sharing cars by 2021.
The shift from simply selling cars to offering ride-sharing comes after the success of Uber and Lyft. Companies like Hyundai and Ford want to take advantage of the ride-sharing economy, but they won’t be satisfied with only making the cars. They want to control and make money from the vehicles on an ongoing basis.
Although it’s not clear exactly when self-driving cars will come to the U.S., Hyundai already has a plan for South Korea. They want to launch fully, self-driving cars by 2024 and make them available to the general public by 2027 in South Korea.
What do consumers want?
Considering the success of Uber and Lyft, it’s clear consumers don’t have a problem getting into a stranger’s car that they hailed using a smartphone app. They also don’t seem to mind sharing a vehicle with other passengers or paying for the service. Most even leave a tip for the driver.
Would consumers be open-minded about using a ride-sharing service from a car manufacturer? It seems likely they wouldn’t have a problem with it. In addition, some may prefer it over an Uber or Lyft.
There’s a shift among younger generations away from car ownership toward ride-sharing and public transport. Part of the reason is financial; they simply can’t afford a car and the payments that go with it. Other reasons include a focus on the environment, the need for flexibility, and an unstable personal life with many moves.
Hyundai and Ford won’t be the only companies that explore autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing services. You can expect to see others join them once the concept develops. In the future, you may be using an app to order a Toyota or Ford directly from the company to pick you up. And there won’t be a driver inside when it arrives.