Nissan, Renault, Mitsubishi Hunting for Robo-taxi Deals With Tech Companies

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

The alliance consisting of Nissan, Renault, and Mitsubishi Motors is currently searching for partners for a plunge into the robo-taxi business. While chairman Carlos Ghosn claims mobility will never replace traditional ownership, he acknowledges the need to explore other avenues to remain competitive.

“A lot of people think this is substitution. It’s not — it’s addition,” Ghosn said in November. “The traditional business of building cars and selling cars and owning cars is going to continue.”

However, the supplemental businesses aren’t going off half-cocked. Ogi Redzic, Alliance senior vice president, has said he’s personally overseeing about 1,000 employees tasked with developing connectivity services for the automotive group and intends to announce the partners for the new autonomous cab service in the coming months.

“Tech companies aren’t going to build and sell cars to our current customers,” Redzic told Bloomberg. For them, autonomous technology enables and enhances their core businesses, he said. “We envision that partnerships are possible.”

Whether those partnerships will include Uber, Lyft, or Waymo is unknown. If the Alliance chooses to start a competitive service, rather than simply building self-driving cabs for sale, there would be little reason for ride-hailing firms to back the venture. Then again, Uber partnered with General Motors on its Maven program despite the service seeming like it could eventually evolve into something capable of hurting the ride-hailing company.

As for Nissan, Renault, Mitsubishi, the trio will have to make some progress before similar concerns are addressed. Combined, the companies invested a total of $8.3 billion in research and development last year, which is on par with General Motors. But GM still appears to be in the lead when it comes to autonomous development.

From Bloomberg:

The alliance has already reached some agreements to share the R&D burden. Nissan works with mobile-games editor DeNA on autonomous cabs to be tested in Yokohama next year, while Renault teamed up with French transportation-services provider Transdev to develop self-driving fleets. The alliance signed a deal with Microsoft last year to co-invest on developing back-end cloud technology fit for autonomous vehicles.

Other automakers have made similar deals. Volvo and Daimler have teamed up with Uber. A driverless-car alliance announced Thursday pairing Volkswagen Group and Hyundai Motor with the startup Aurora will develop vehicles for Moia, VW’s electric ride-hailing network.

Nissan’s plan for autonomous technology isn’t nearly as clear. Its definitely interested in development but it appears to be taking a less headstrong approach in terms of deployment. Ghosn said as much when he suggested the market hadn’t settled enough for any automaker to make a bulletproof decision on how to best implement side businesses. But the Alliance also cannot afford to be left behind by ignoring R&D.

“Autonomous cars will bring more value to our existing customers,” Redzic explained. “The vehicle itself is valuable and also services will generate a lot of value. We want to take a fair share.”

[Image: Nissan]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • JohnTaurus JohnTaurus on Jan 06, 2018

    Terrible. The only worse thing I can think of besides driving a modern Nissan or Mitsubishi is being driven by one.

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    • JohnTaurus JohnTaurus on Jan 07, 2018

      @Inside Looking Out Well, I get joy out of driving, and cars that sap joy out of driving aren't a turn-on to begin with. I do try to appreciate vehicles I don't personally prefer, but there isn't much about either that I can find that I like. For the most part. I won't say *every* Nissan is horrible, they aren't, but most could be better. But, as I said, I do get joy out of driving...anything, really. Even a penalty box with a buzzy engine, a rubber band trans, and mediocre-at-best interior and driving dynamics. Being in one and not being able to have my hands on the wheel is just not something I care for. If I was to be in something I couldn't drive, give me a roomy car with a smooth ride and supportive seats (and WiFi lol), which is not what I've experienced in my time in modern Nissan cars. Yes, of course I do ride with other people driving. As a matter of fact, I rode in a late-model Altima last night with my friend driving (which had all of the above unpleasantness lol). My point is, though, if I'm using something for my personal transportation, I want to experience the drive. Even if the drive isn't stellar, I still want to have the experience. One can say (and they'd be correct) that my personal transportation consists of an old Taurus. Not exactly heart-pounding, fire breathing desire-on-wheels, I know. Discounting the fact that I've always liked these cars for a moment, for what it cost me and what I get out of it, yes I would take it over the Altima she was driving. In a heartbeat. It doesn't bother me that its old. It doesn't bother me that it these cars have a reputation of transaxle issues...so do CVT Nissans, and I know which would be easier and cheaper to fix if such a failure occurred. If for nothing but the lumbar support and not-lifeless steering feel, it wins. I realize that logically, my car is living on borrowed time and if it quit today, nobody would be surprised, least of all me. Its old. It has a lot of miles, and they weren't all pampered and coddled. It has been used, but I don't believe its used up. I still enjoy driving it and for my situation, it could not have been better to me over the past 5 years and somewhere around 55K miles I've put on it. I wouldn't choose a Camry to be driven in (perhaps over an Altima lol), but a Lexus LS, Caddy CT6, Lincoln Continental, that's more like it. Like I said, something roomy and comfortable. If I'm not going to get the pleasure of driving, I might as well be comfortable and in nice surroundings.

  • John Horner John Horner on Jan 07, 2018

    On a whim I recently checked the cost to return to our home from my office, a trip of about 5 miles and 12 minutes. $13 to Uber/Lyft that trip. I know that owning and operating a personal car is expensive, but I certainly could not afford to do all of my getting around on ride share services! 17 million new vehicles were sold in the US in each of the past few years. There is little sign that the great sharing disruption we keep reading about is under way. Yes, ride share companies are replacing traditionally hailed (hand wave or phone) taxis with app summoned taxis, and so far that is about it.

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    • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Jan 07, 2018

      I am surprised that traditional taxis still exist. Who in his right mind summons taxis? Last time I rode taxi was in 2010, but back then Uber did not exist yet.

  • ToolGuy TG grows skeptical about his government protecting him from bad decisions.
  • Calrson Fan Jeff - Agree with what you said. I think currently an EV pick-up could work in a commercial/fleet application. As someone on this site stated, w/current tech. battery vehicles just do not scale well. EBFlex - No one wanted to hate the Cyber Truck more than me but I can't ignore all the new technology and innovative thinking that went into it. There is a lot I like about it. GM, Ford & Ram should incorporate some it's design cues into their ICE trucks.
  • Michael S6 Very confusing if the move is permanent or temporary.
  • Jrhurren Worked in Detroit 18 years, live 20 minutes away. Ren Cen is a gem, but a very terrible design inside. I’m surprised GM stuck it out as long as they did there.
  • Carson D I thought that this was going to be a comparison of BFGoodrich's different truck tires.
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