The Fuse

This Week In AVs: Uber Floats New AV Ownership Model; Smart Columbus Launches Public AV Shuttle; And More

by Alex Adams | @alexjhadams | February 10, 2020

Uber Floats New AV Ownership Model
As the AV industry looks for pathways to scale up and attain profitability, Uber is now considering an ownership model that holds the potential to relieve them of the capital-intensive burden of owning and maintaining a large vehicle fleet. Establishing a new asset class for AVs, vehicles would be owned under a car fleet investment trust, or “FLEIT.” The concept borrows from real estate investment trusts—or “REITs”—which own property assets totaling $3 trillion in the United States alone. Just as REITs are companies that own, operate and finance income-producing real estate into which people can invest, FLEITs in theory would allow investments into AV fleets, with returns generated by income from rides.

The concept, however, is still at the theoretical stage and has some crucial differences to real estate—particularly around depreciation and liability. In contrast to buildings, vehicles tend to depreciate in value as they age, rather than appreciate. Additionally, the potential for accidents is much greater with vehicles than it is with property. While there is still much work to do for this business model to make the switch from concept to reality, its consideration by Uber shows the company—along with the industry as a whole—is increasingly turning its attention to business models in order to make their technology profitable.

Smart Columbus Launches AV Shuttle
An autonomous shuttle launched yesterday in Columbus, OH, is being billed as the country’s first daily public residential autonomous shuttle. Connecting the city’s South Linden neighborhood to other major transit points, the shuttles will run almost three miles from the Linden Transit Center, through the city’s biggest public housing development, and on to a recreation center before terminating at St. Stephen’s Community House, which provides senior, daycare and health services to 22,000 residents. The shuttle is the latest development by Smart Columbus, the winning entrant in the Smart City Challenge, a $40 million U.S. DOT contest with an extra $10 million from the late Paul Allen’s Vulcan fund (now known as the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation) for cities to design smart transportation systems. SAFE’s sister organization, the Electrification Coalition, is also acting as a technical adviser to Smart Columbus.

This latest announcement follows the unveiling of another shuttle service in Gainesville, FL, where testing began earlier this week. The service will run from downtown Gainesville to Innovation Square, on the edge of the University of Florida campus. An operator will be on board during the trial phase, with plans to forgo the operator as testing progresses. Like Smart Columbus, Gainesville officials are trialing autonomous shuttles in order to introduce new technology that helps the mobility of people and goods. “As you can see around here or other urban areas, the status quo of cars is just changing,” said Tom Byron, Florida DOT’s assistant secretary for strategic development.

Waymo Says Tempe Accident Caused By Other Driver
A Waymo self-driving minivan operating in manual mode was involved in a rear-end collision in Tempe, AZ, last Thursday evening. According to a statement from the company, the Waymo vehicle was being operated by a driver when the other vehicle swerved in front and hit the brakes. “One of Waymo’s self-driving vehicles was involved in an incident in Tempe late on the evening of January 30 when another vehicle erratically swerved in front of our vehicle, braking aggressively and abruptly slowing down to a full stop on a 45mph road,” Waymo said in a prepared statement Friday

Tempe police said the other vehicle involved was a Mazda sedan, and has offered no further details on the driver other than the person was not hurt. This latest incident comes after reports in the Arizona Republic in 2018 of Waymo’s vehicles being targeted and harassed by drivers in the state, including following them, swerving at them, trying to run them off the road—and in one case, having a gun pointed at them.