After 9 years and 10 million miles of testing, we can now announce:: Waymo left the test phase and has launched in Phoenix the world’s first, self-driving taxi fleet.
After years of sparse information and well dosed messages, the last week have seen a flurry of activities and signals pointing to an imminent launch of Waymo’s robotaxi service. Recruitment of employees increased, pickup and loading zones in front of supermarket in the Phoenix area in Arizona popped up, and on Twitter Waymo became more active posting videos from the Early Rider test passenger. At the same time an interview with Waymo-CTO Dmitri Dolgov was published, giving insights into the mass production of Waymo’s sensors. Those will be used in the 20,000 Jaguars and 62,000 FCA-cars that Waymo has ordered..
In an interview, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said something that let us jolt up. He responded to the question about an official launch with the following:
“I think it’s going to be hard to define any one moment where it’s suddenly launched. I think from our perspective it is launched, and the service is out there now, but we’ll have more and more people riding it to more and more places.”
After the first taxi fleet is now operating in operation in Phoenix, the next locations will be San Francisco and Mountain View in California, starting first half of 2019.
What does it mean for others?
First, we will be able to get first hand data of how much safer robotaxi service is. It’s expected that there will be up to 80 or 90 percent fewer crashes. The pressure in other locations will increase to forbid manual driving and introduce autonomous fleets.
As soon as robotaxis demonstrate that they are more reliable, more affordable, faster, and more comfortable, people will start give up their own cars. Car dealerships will lose sales, parking spaces will become able and cities will change. Public transport will see a reduction of passengers and see growing deficits.
Car makers, who don’t have their own self-driving technologies, will not be able to sell cars anymore.
The pressure on taxis and transportation network providers will increase, while trying to compete with robotaxis. Taxis, Uber, or Lyft will face an existential threat.
How expensive will they be?
Waymo has been testing prices similar to what ridesharing services such as Uber or Lyft charge. But Waymo can calculate with other price points. Today, 50 percent of the taxi fare are the driver’s salary. If you add more fuel efficient driving and fewer energy use with mostly electric vehicles that the Waymo fleet may be composed of, fares will decrease by 80 to 90 percent. A ride can even be free, as a shopping mall, a movie center, a hospital, the shopping street with restaurants, or the event center may want to send their clients a free Waymo.
What about us?
The more cars Waymo is adding to its fleet, the bigger the technological gap to the efforts of other car makers trying to develop their own technology will become.
It’s only a question of time until Europe will see self-driving taxi fleets from Waymo. My estimate is that within three years we will see the first fleets in Europe. But not a single one will be by a German or any other European maker. The companies can only hope to have a test operation with small fleets – or more probable – have their cars equipped with self-driving technology from vendors such as Waymo. At this time it will be too late to be in a leading position on self-driving technology.
October 2018 will be the month in our history books – and 2018 as the year in general – where German car companies have lost their dominance in the automotive industry.
This article has also been published in German.