Volvo Has No Say In Where Uber Tests Its Self-Driving Cars – Forbes

Posted: Sunday, December 18, 2016
Uber launches self-driving pilot in San Francisco with Volvo Cars (photo credit: Volvo)

Uber launches self-driving pilot in San Francisco with Volvo Cars (photo credit: Volvo)

Volvo is a car maker that built its brand on on advancing safety for more than half a century. In 2008, the company stated a vision that by 2020, no one should be killed or seriously injured while driving or riding in its products. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone to say that Volvo’s goal has always been to do right by its customers. The same cannot be said of Uber. When the ride-hailing company and Volvo announced a partnership in August 2016 to develop self-driving cars, it always seemed like a bit of an odd couple. With the controversy sparked by Uber’s expansion of its self-driving pilot program into San Francisco last week, Volvo has remained oddly silent.

In my previous column about Uber’s arrogance in the face of some pretty lenient regulations for testing autonomous cars in California, I ended up by suggesting that Volvo might want to take a more active role in pushing its partner in the right direction. I reached out to Volvo for a comment on the situation.

“Our partnership with Uber involves the engineering and support of the vehicles, we do not develop their autonomous technology or software,” said Jim Nichols, Volvo Cars USA product and technology communications manager. “It is up to Uber to decide where and how to test their software and program. As a result, any requirements to conduct their tests is up to them, we do not have any insight into Uber’s relationship with regulators or state agencies.”

It seems that the Volvo-Uber partnership is more of a supplier-customer relationship than I first thought. Going back to the August 18, 2016 announcement of the Volvo-Uber partnership:

“The two companies have signed an agreement to establish a joint project that will develop new base vehicles that will be able to incorporate the latest developments in AD technologies, up to and including fully autonomous driverless cars. The base vehicles will be manufactured by Volvo Cars and then purchased from Volvo by Uber. Volvo Cars and Uber are contributing  a combined USD 300M to the project.”

Volvo is evidently working with Uber to develop a customized version of its scalable product architecture (SPA) to meet Uber’s needs as a ride-hailing provider. Assuming this agreement continues to its conclusion, we’ll probably see car that rides on the platform of the Volvo S90 and XC90 but with a body suited to quick entry and exit for Uber passengers.

In effect, this is something closer to the relationship that Google/Waymo has with Fiat Chrysler than the one between GM and Lyft. FCA engineers worked with Waymo to integrate the latter company’s sensing, actuation and processing hardware into a fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans. Once the vehicles were built, Waymo took complete control of the rest of development and FCA is largely out of the picture now. Similarly, Volvo has no influence on how customers use its vehicles once they leave the dealer lot.


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