Users of the car-sharing company will be able to hail autonomous cars.
Southeast Asia’s homegrown ride-hailing player Grab — which just raised $750 million in funding — is partnering with self-driving car company nuTonomy.
It’s a partnership akin to what many in the industry think should have happened between Uber and Google before Uber decided to create self-driving software itself: A company working on self-driving software partnering with a company with the ride-hailing know-how and a large user base.
For now, the partnership is fairly limited, with nuTonomy — which just launched its self-driving pilot with six cars in Singapore — making its self-driving cars available to Grab users. Eventually, the partnership may look a lot like Lyft’s partnership with General Motors, which acquired self-driving startup Cruise earlier this year. GM will build and manufacture the cars, Lyft will operate the ride-hailing logistics. Cruise, which was recently acquired by the auto giant for $1 billion, provides the software that drives the cars.
For Grab and nuTonomy, all that’s missing now is an automaker.
NuTonomy is already in active talks with automakers, company COO Doug Parker told Recode in May when I took a ride in one of its car in Singapore. According to Parker, the company might even consider licensing their software to automakers down the road.
Singapore is certainly a test location well-suited for self-driving cars — from its highly mapped streets to the government’s active interest in reducing car ownership and congestion. Singapore has been actively pushing forward local self-driving efforts and named nuTonomy its official research and development partner.
So, it’s not surprising that Grab has decided to partner with nuTonomy. As Recode first reported, Grab CEO Anthony Tan was considering partnering with a self-driving player in the nation-state once there was a “clear winner.”
But launching a self-driving pilot does not ensure that it will be a winner. Nonetheless, nuTonomy did beat a number of companies to the punch — for one, nuTonomy launched its pilot mere days before Uber rolled out its own test in Pittsburgh. The company also ostensibly found a go-to-market strategy in its partnership with Grab before players like Google — which has been working on its self-driving cars for eight years — have yet to publicly announced one.
“Partnering with Grab to expand our public trial in Singapore will yield valuable feedback and consumer insights as nuTonomy readies our on- demand self-driving car service for commercial launch in 2018,” nuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma said in a statement.