Public Startups Venture

Robo-Taxis’ Revenue-Generating Life Is Slowly Shifting Into Gear

Morning Markets: After enormous investment, self-driving cars are generating a modicum of revenue both domestically and abroad.

In late 2018, Waymo, an Alphabet subsidiary, started a commercial rollout of self-driving cars in Arizona. As coverage noted at the time, however, the cars were “staffed by the company’s drivers.” But, the moment seemed important. Here, at last, we were seeing Waymo’s expensive efforts into autonomous driving start to pay back.

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Self-driving technology is incredibly expensive to develop, and hard to get right. Regarding cost, anyone can peruse the operating losses generated by Alphabet’s Other Bets efforts, which include Waymo. In terms of difficulty, a recent report from The Information detailed a possible rise in total usage of the Waymo autonomous taxi service, along with some complaints regarding routing, and other mistakes.

No new technology reaches early-commercialization fully-baked. So, to see Waymo not rack up a perfect customer record in its first few quarters of public use is not surprising. (Waymo is also doing some intelligent, customer-friendly things to boost demand for the service, it was reported this summer.)

All these Waymo reminders bring us to today’s news, namely that Didi is planning on launching a self-driving tax service in Shanghai. According to CNBC, Didi will have “30 different models of so-called level four autonomous vehicles in the Jiading district of Shanghai.” The cars will allow for drivers to assert control, similar to what we’ve seen in other self-driving vehicles.

Waymo and Didi are not the only companies getting their first self-driving commercial services up and running, but they caught our eye for a few reasons. First, Waymo as part of the Alphabet universe has access to huge financial resources. And in the case of Didi, it’s the China-based Uber-equivalent and a company that Uber owns a piece of. So, we expect the two companies to wind up as leaders in the self-driving taxi market.

Crunchbase News has written about self-driving rounds extensively. It would be interesting, and honestly exciting, to instead cover how private companies (like Didi) are racing public companies to drive the first billion dollars in self-driving car revenue. Especially as the major players have all spent far more than that on the projects.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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