Start Your Autonomous Engines (Rivian vs. Cruise vs. Uber ATG)

Michael Wenner
Oct 16th, 2019

Do you hear that?

Probably not, because electric vehicles are notoriously quiet compared to their gasoline and diesel counterparts. And their popularity around the globe is growing rapidly.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the electric car fleet grew by 2 million vehicles in 2018, with the global fleet size now exceeding 5.1 million units. New electric vehicle car sales also nearly doubled during this same time frame. The IEA attributes this growth to changes in public policy, technological advancement, and private sector investment.

The public sector’s sentiment and investment in electric vehicles (EVs) are apparent in companies like Rivian, Cruise, and Uber ATG.

All three are tackling the challenge of developing electric and autonomous vehicles in the hope they will become the transportation of the future.

Rivian Automotive

Rivian is focused on bringing the EV movement to the outdoors. Their two flagship vehicles - the R1T and R1S - are fully-electric adventure-mobiles designed to reduce the impact on the environment and simultaneously help people spend more time outdoors. Their motto, “keep the world adventurous forever”, speaks to this plainly.

The R1 comes in two models: the “T” model is the Rivian Truck and the “S” model is the Rivian SUV. The spec pages for both models point to their ruggedness with highlights like a wading depth of over 3 feet, a quad-motor system (think all-wheel drive), and built-in lockbox storage.

Rivian was founded in 2009 but has gained a significant amount of steam (battery power?) in the last few years. Rivian has had a mega-funding year in 2019, raising $700 million in a round led by Amazon in February, $500 million in April from Ford Motor, and an additional $350 million from Cox Automotive in September, for a total of $1.55 billion in funds raised this year alone.

While Rivian’s initial efforts are on producing the R1T and R1S - with first deliveries scheduled for the end of 2020 and early 2021 - investments from major automotive and tech companies suggest there is more in the pipeline for this ambitious electric vehicle startup.

Cruise Automation

Cruise is a General Motors (GM) backed self-driving car service meant to replace the current fleet of gas-powered taxis and on-demand cars with an all-electric ride hauler that drives itself. Cruise has $7.25 billion in committed capital from General Motors, Honda, SoftBank, T. Rowe Price, and others.

Cruise is taking a technology-first approach to fully-electric autonomous driving and tests all of its vehicles in San Francisco so they are able to gather data and review their vehicle's encounters with common roadway interactions like construction, cyclists, pedestrians, and odd intersections.

Cruise was initially targeting the commercial deployment of their cars in 2019, but in July announced that they are pushing that target date back as more testing of the vehicle was required. Cruise did not say when they now expect to deploy their ride-hailing service using their self-driving electric vehicles. 

In the future, Cruise projects that consumers will shift their behavior towards on-demand ride-hailing with all-electric, self-driving vehicles. With a dedicated GM manufacturing line and major automotive company support, Cruise is attempting to position itself as a leader of the ride-hailing, self-driving, and electric vehicle industry.

Uber ATG

Uber Advanced Technology Group (ATG) is a division of Uber that focuses on self-driving transportation. Their primary project is developing self-driving vehicles, partnering with Volvo and Toyota to bring safe and reliable self-driving technology to the Uber network.

Their vision is simple: the future of ride-hailing services is with an autonomous, self-driving vehicle and they want to be at the forefront. Uber ATG intends to add these self-driving vehicles to their existing Uber ride-sharing services, but not without undergoing extensive testing first.

Uber ATG uses a phased approach in their autonomous driving ambitions by first having a human drive while the vehicle gathers information about the roads and conditions. The next step is a computer-driven car but with a human behind the wheel, before moving onto a computer-driven car with a human behind the wheel and a passenger (you!) in the back seat. Of course, their future goal is to remove the human behind the wheel and have the vehicle become completely autonomous.

Testing is currently underway in San Francisco, Toronto, Pittsburgh, and coming to Dallas in November of 2019. Each city is a different stage in the testing process. For example, in both San Francisco and Toronto, a human is driving the vehicle. However, in Pittsburgh, a computer is driving with a human behind the wheel.

The Future of Mobility is Electric and Autonomous

… At least that is what these companies - and many others - are pushing towards. And the data backs that up:

      Annual sales of electric vehicles saw a 59% CAGR from 2014 to 2018, with over 2.1 million electric vehicles sold world-wide in 2018.

      McKinsey projects that autonomous driving, and seamless mobility in general, will be cleaner, more convenient, and more efficient than the status quo, accommodating up to 30% more traffic while cutting travel time by 10%

While Rivian, Cruise, and Uber are taking different approaches to electric and autonomous mobility, their ambitions are no less significant to the future of transportation than Henry Ford’s in the 1920s or the first underground train system in London during the 1800s. 

With every year that passes, it becomes more apparent that the future of transportation, and especially urban transportation, is electric and autonomous.

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