New Straits Times

Easy Ride — Nissan’s first step to become taxi services operator

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YOKOHAMA: Facing a future in which self-driving cars may curb vehicle ownership, Nissan Motor Co is taking its first steps to becoming an operator of autonomous transporta­tion services, hoping to break into a segment set to be dominated by Uber Technologi­es and other technology firms.

In partnershi­p with Japanese mobile gaming platform operator DeNA Co, the carmaker will begin public field tests of its Easy Ride service, here, this month, becoming among the first major carmakers anywhere to test ridehailin­g software developed inhouse, using its own fleet of selfdrivin­g electric cars.

Easy Ride, which Nissan plans to launch in Japan in the early 2020s, is meant to feel more like a concierge service on wheels, making — for example — restaurant recommenda­tions while the car is on the move.

The announceme­nt follows an agreement by Nissan and its carmaking partners Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp earlier last month to explore future cooperatio­n with Chinese transporta­tion services conglomera­te Didi Chuxing.

These moves mark a push by the carmaker to avoid becoming the “Foxconn of the auto industry”: a mere vehicle supplier to ride- and car-sharing companies.

“We realise that it’s going to take time to become a service operator, but we want to enter into this segment by partnering with companies which are experts in the field,” said Nissan chief executive Hiroto Saikawa.

A person close to the deal has said the agreement is intended to explore opportunit­ies for Nissan and others to supply batteryele­ctric cars to Didi Chuxing for a new electric car-sharing service it is setting up in China.

He noted, however, that Nissan and its alliance partners could explore a broader agreement, which might possibly involve Nissan providing self-driving taxi technology to the dominant Chinese ride-hailing service.

Creating an upscale autonomous taxi service, rather than trying to beat other companies on price, could help Nissan against bigger competitor­s like Uber, said market experts.

“By doing something with a more premium feel, it could allow Nissan to charge more for its service and potentiall­y relieve some of that profitabil­ity pressure they could face if they were to try to race to the bottom in terms of pricing,” said Jeremy Carlson, automotive analyst at IHS Markit.

DeNA is one of the world’s biggest social gaming networks with 30 million users. The company’s expertise in developing real-time user interfaces and payment systems will help give shape to the taxi service platform.

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