“Honk if you love robots.” This clever quip from Bloomberg could be the bumper sticker for thousands of self-driving cars whipping us around in the not so distant future.
Bloomberg reported on August 18th that Uber and Volvo have entered into a strategic partnership with investments totaling at least $300 million to launch autonomous Uber rides in the American city of Philadelphia, PA. Given the sheer shock-factor people have at the idea of being driven around by a robot car, it’s only natural that most of the attention given to that story has been focused around the feasibility of driverless cars and how soon we’ll all be riding in them.
But given the fact that Tesla has already achieved limited success from their newest cars’ Autopilot mode, this announcement from Uber makes Ford’s announced plans of having self-driving cars in 2021 seem light years behind the competition. Self-driving cars for purchase and autonomous ride-sharing services are becoming more of the anticipated near-future reality each and every day that passes, and less like that of something out of the Jetsons.
However, the mass public aren’t always willing to be pioneers for future generations when it involves their safety. After all, it was only a few months ago that a man died while riding in his Tesla on Autopilot and being involved in a fatal crash, although, it was reported days later that the man may have been watching a Harry Potter movie while in the driver’s seat. Never the less, the crash was an enormous amount of bad publicity for Tesla, and certainly a small step back for the reputation of autonomous cars.
Enter Volvo. Volvo’s name in the auto world has for a long while now been synonymous with the words safety and premium quality. In part due to their own marketing, involving videos such as this one which shows Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits while two Volvo semi trucks drift further and further apart from each other, all the while seemingly under complete and precise control.
The 2015 Volvo XC-90, which will be used exclusively in the Uber autonomous fleet in Philadelphia, won the Red Dot Award for the best-designed SUV in the world. Volvos repeatedly outperform their competition in safety tests, and they are absolutely connected in the minds of drivers and passengers around the world with safety and security.
By choosing the Volvo XC-90 for their first foray into driver-less cars, Uber is making the genius move of taking advantage of the brand equity that Volvo has earned throughout the years and using it to overcome the biggest objection that will come up against this new transportation option: perceived lack of safety.
Through choosing Volvo for this innovative strategic partnership, Uber is giving themselves the power to control the narrative. Now when a conversation starts “The car doesn’t have a driver? Is that really that safe?” There’s the potential for someone else to say “Well, it is a Volvo though… and they’re super safe cars.”
Couple that along with the fact that Uber will have humans in the driver’s seats in case something does go wrong, and you have a recipe for success that gives Uber fans and investors alike legitimate cause for excitement.
If all goes well in Philadelphia, Uber could have the data and real life experiences it needs to convince major cities to alter traffic laws to accommodate for self-driving cars, as well as testimonials from passengers to use as marketing material to convince other skeptical would-be passengers.
Uber stated that their deal with Volvo holds no exclusivity for the future, as far as them not being able to choose other car brands for partnerships in the future, but their choice to go with the “uber” safe Volvo (yes… pun intended) at this crucial point in their venture, is one that in my opinion can only be described as….. genius.