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As we have reported, robotaxis are set to emerge over the next decade as the first application of “mobility services”. A handful of pilot projects are underway, with a long list of participants targeting SAE Level 4 autonomous vehicles capable of driverless operation in designated areas and on dry roads.
Lux Research presents the business case for robotaxis, claiming that emerging mobility services will cost less per kilometer than conventional taxis and current rail services. The wild card, the market tracker notes, is whether the robotaxis will replace car ownership.
Current carpooling services vary by region: about $ 2 per mile in North America, $ 1 in China. Lux estimates that operating costs for robotaxis could reach $ 0.29 per mile, meaning operators could potentially leave rideshare services by the side of the road.
Despite the considerable initial investment, owning a car is still cheaper, around $ 0.10 per mile for electric vehicles, Lux Research estimates. This estimate includes fuel and maintenance costs, but appears to exclude collision and liability insurance.
“Robotaxi operations will disrupt incumbent ridesharing companies due to a significantly more favorable economy,” the market analyst noted in his robotaxi review published at the end of October. “Ultimately, the robotaxis will not significantly replace car ownership.” One of the reasons, he noted, is “the social status attributed to car ownership.”
Lux notes that basic axis robot technologies are underway and that pilot projects are being tested and required refinement. He predicts that “geo-fenced” Level 4 autonomous vehicles deemed safe for mobility services will pass pilot testing to commercial operations over the decade.
Yet technological development remains a costly proposition, and success depends on the deep pockets and investment of patient capital required to achieve Level 4 performance. Lux notes that the current market leaders are backed by major automakers: Cruise with GM and Honda; Waymo with Google; and Argo AI with Ford and VW.
The robotaxi review notes that Waymo and AutoX have racked up the most test miles and are embarking on driverless driving pilots. Our colleague Egil Juliussen reported that Cruise plans to launch a pilot robotaxi service in California once regulators give the green light.
Among the challenges facing robotaxi developers is the fierce competition for engineering talent.
Assuming conventional car ownership remains stable, automakers are betting that the potential reductions in maintenance and insurance costs will deliver a return on their robotaxi investments.
“Automakers should not necessarily ignore the opportunity completely,” noted Lux. “Robot operators still need to use automobiles, and no major operator has designed and built their own vehicles.
“Additionally, automakers and their suppliers can and should consider using robotaxi deployments for development purposes. Using robotaxi operations to advance technical capabilities while understanding how consumers interact with them is a promising strategy. “
Electric vehicle and energy prices are unlikely to drop anytime soon. The post-pandemic urge to travel – to and from the airport or just to city centers – could help create increased demand for emerging mobility services that may one day be able to carry passengers door-to-door. . That is, if it can be shown to be safe.