$48bn in shared mobility investments signals robotaxi rise: Report

By Robert Scammell

The shared mobility sector, which includes firms such as Uber and DiDi, has attracted more than $48bn worth of mergers, acquisitions and investments over a three year period, according to data analytics firm GlobalData.

These shared mobility investments are at “historic levels”, indicating that the sharing of transport services – whether a ride-hailing form such as Lyft, carpooling services such as BlaBlaCar, or car-sharing providers such as ShareNow – will have an increasingly significant impact on the transport sector.

GlobalData tracked financial activity of shared mobility companies from the start of 2016 to the end of 2018 for its report, ‘Shared mobility – Thematic Research’.

The shared mobility investment reflects a broader shift away from ownership for consumers, such as streaming films compared to buying DVDs.

Shared mobility services could also see private vehicle owners offsetting the cost of ownership by renting their car to others when not in use, via peer-to-peer apps.

Mike Vousden, automotive analyst at GlobalData, said: “Consumers are becoming ever more comfortable with the concept of having access to a shared product without the financial burden of private ownership.

“There is a momentum towards these services, whether that is shared cars that can be rented for a few hours or a network of autonomous taxis that can be summoned to your door via a smartphone app.”

Shared mobility investments suggest robotaxis in 2035

Based on the high levels of shared mobility investments, GlobalData’s report estimates that self-driving robotaxis will become a commonplace transport option by 2035.

Many ride-hailing firms appear to be depending on driverless car technology to boost profits or to become profitable for the first time.

For example, Uber is yet to make a profit, recording losses of $1.8bn in 2018. In its May IPO filing, the company said it may never make a profit.

The basic rationale is that not having to pay a driver will bring down operational costs.

However, critics have pointed to a number of flaws in this business model. For example, the extra costs for human supervisors to monitor driverless cars, well-paid software engineers to carry out maintenance and the taxi company absorbing the costs when the car isn’t carrying passengers.

Such economic models also predict self-driving robotaxis – at current prices – will be more costly than private ownership.

“Companies in the auto sector need to decide what role they will play when shared mobility begins to challenge private vehicle ownership,” said Vousden.

“Considering the high financial and technological barriers to breaking into shared mobility, many automotive firms will engage in partnerships with established companies in the field before financing their own products and services.”

For example, Google-owned Waymo, widely considered the leader in driverless cars, has partnered with Renault-Nissan to “research commercial, legal and regulatory issues related to driverless transportation-as-a-service offerings in France and Japan”.

GlobalData is the parent company of Verdict.

Read more: Major robotaxi pilots to be launched in Europe in 2020