Uber announced today its plan to join forces with German auto giant Daimler on the deployment of self-driving cars. The cars, along with the autonomous technology, will be manufactured by Daimler before being introduced into Uber’s ride-hailing network, the companies say.
“Auto manufacturers like Daimler are crucial to our strategy because Uber has no experience making cars—and in fact, making cars is really hard,” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said in a blog post published Tuesday. “This became very clear to me after I visited an auto manufacturing plant and saw how much effort goes into designing, testing and building cars.”
This partnership is different from the Uber has with Volvo, in which the ride-hailing company and the Swedish automaker collaborated together on retrofitting a fleet of XC90 SUVs with Uber’s autonomous technology. These self-driving cars, most likely Mercedes-Benz sedans, will be owned and operated by Daimler, but used to pick up and drop off passengers on Uber’s network.
Rumors of Uber’s interest in Daimler’s self-driving cars cropped up early last year, when a German magazine reported that Uber had placed an order for 100,000 Mercedes S-Class series with Daimler, citing unnamed sources at both companies. That report was never verified, and the rumor seemed to die down soon after.
Since then, Uber has deployed its own self-driving cars in a number of cities. The company launched its first autonomous driving program in in Pittsburgh, where it used Ford Focus vehicles and then Volvo SUVs. Then in August last year, Uber deployed its self-driving Volvos in San Francisco, but was forced to shut down the program a week later after the California DMV cracked down. Uber shipped a majority of its self-driving cars to Arizona, but left a few behind in San Francisco for mapping purposes.
Meanwhile, Daimler is getting close to releasing semi-autonomous vehicles that could compete with Tesla’s Autopilot. Mercedes-Benz is first up, releasing the next generation of its Drive Pilot system this summer in the nonpareil S-Class. The Verge’s Jordan Golson tested it out at CES and dubbed it better than Autopilot. The company already has been testing a fleet of self-driving trucks, much like Uber with its fleet of Otto trucks.
In his post, Kalanick says he plans to partner with other auto manufacturers moving forward, as the company seeks to improve its own self-driving technology and advance the movement of autonomous vehicles on public roads. He also acknowledged that automakers have kept Uber at arm’s length out of fear of the impact the ride-hailing company could have on its core business of selling cars to people.
“I’ve been personally impressed with Daimler — whose company mantra is ‘The Best or Nothing’ — and with the leadership of Dieter Zetsche, who had a friendly debate with me about the future of mobility and the auto industry last year in Berlin,” Kalanick said. “Dieter said then that Daimler and Uber could be ‘frenemies’—in fact, we turned out to be great partners.”