Deal ‘back on track’ despite delays to testing after fatal accident, says carmaker.
Volvo will begin shipping vehicles to Uber for self-driving use next year, in spite of delays to the testing programme following a fatal accident, the chief executive of the Swedish carmaker said. Speaking as Volvo announced a deal to develop electric cars with Baidu for use in a Chinese autonomous taxi fleet, Hakan Samuelsson said Volvo’s existing deal with Uber was “back on track”.
The companies struck a deal last year to sell up to 24,000 XC90 sports utility vehicles to the ride-hailing group, which Volvo and Uber engineers would fit with self-driving systems. But Uber’s testing programme was halted in March following a fatal collision when one of its cars hit a pedestrian. Mr Samuelsson said he expected shipments of the first vehicles to happen next year, as previously planned. “It was delayed because they stopped the testing but now it is back on track,” he told the Financial Times.
A spokesman for Uber said the company was planning to receive vehicles next year but declined to give details. The company has not yet resumed testing vehicles on public roads. Previously it said it wanted to make changes to the cars as well as publishing an in-depth safety report before doing so. Volvo announced a separate deal to work with Baidu to develop vehicles for the Chinese internet group’s self-driving programme.
The cars, which will be fully electric, will be based on a Volvo battery car due for release in 2020 but could also be purpose designed, Mr Samuelsson said. “This is something that’s important, because these robotaxis will not look like normal cars,” he added. Volvo’s deal with Baidu will see it manufacturer the vehicles for the fleet, the first time a carmaker based outside China has worked with the company to this degree on self-driving.
China is the world’s largest car market and is expected to be the largest area of autonomous car use, once the nascent technology becomes commercialised. Ya-Qin Zhang, president of Baidu, said: “Since its founding a century ago, Volvo has kept safety as its core mission, pushing safety development forward with significant innovations.”
We are very glad that Volvo Cars has established a strategic partnership with Baidu in the development of a fully autonomous car compatible with our autonomous driving platform Apollo.” Volvo says it wants to become the “supplier of choice” for companies planning to operate self-driving fleets. “There is a strong development in autonomous drive in China, where Baidu is a leading player, and the market there offers huge opportunities for us as the supplier of choice for autonomous fleets,” said Mr Samuelsson.
Volvo believes that a third of its cars sold in 2025 will have autonomous capabilities, being sold either into ride fleets or to consumers. The announcement comes the day after Ford announced it was using Apollo, Baidu’s open-source self-driving programme, to test its own vehicles inside the country. Several western manufacturers including Mercedes-Benz-owner Daimler, BMW and Audi are trialling driverless vehicles in China using local partners for technology. Mercedes is also using Baidu’s Apollo system. The Volvo arrangement is different to the Ford arrangement because the company will work alongside Baidu engineers to develop the vehicle, integrating Baidu’s systems alongside Volvo’s existing safety technology.