Renault-Nissan alliance seeks robo-taxi deals with tech players

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(Bloomberg) -- Renault SA, Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. are ready to climb aboard robo-taxis -- just not without pooling up to share the cost of the ride.

The Franco-Japanese alliance is lining up partners for its push into shared driverless vehicles and plans to unveil names in coming months, said Ogi Redzic, a senior vice president overseeing some 1,000 employees developing connectivity services for the group. The three automakers want to work with technology companies that are already experimenting with self-driving cars, he said -- for example, Google and Uber Technologies Inc.

“Tech companies aren’t going to build and sell cars to our current customers,” said Redzic, a former Nokia Oyj executive. For them, autonomous technology enables and enhances their main businesses, he said. “We envision that partnerships are possible.”

Renault, its longtime partner Nissan, and more recent ally Mitsubishi plan to develop 15 models with autonomous features by 2022, including one fully self-driving vehicle. Combined, the companies spent a total of $8.3 billion on research and development last year -- on par with General Motors Co. Still, the alliance has some catching up to do. GM, the largest U.S. automaker, says it’s ready to be the first to produce a driverless car. The company’s sharing platform, Maven, could serve as a tool to re-enter the European market it left after selling the Opel and Vauxhall brands in August.

The alliance has already reached some agreements to share the R&D burden. Nissan works with mobile-games editor DeNA Co. on autonomous cabs to be tested in Yokohama next year, while Renault teamed up with French transportation-services provider Transdev to develop self-driving fleets. The alliance signed a deal with Microsoft Corp. last year to co-invest on developing back-end cloud technology fit for autonomous vehicles.

Other automakers have made similar deals. Volvo Car Group and Daimler AG have teamed up with Uber. A driverless-car alliance announced Thursday pairing Volkswagen AG and Hyundai Motor Co. with the startup Aurora will develop vehicles for Moia, VW’s electric ride-hailing network.

‘A Lot of Investments’Carmakers are looking for answers to broad questions about how to rejig their businesses to adapt to autonomous vehicles as a potential standard for the future. Investors want to know how the companies will cash in on massive investments in driverless technology and convince customers to give up the wheel.

While shared cars are a part of the equation, selling vehicles to individuals is still the core business, as Redzic sees it. New services like car-hailing, on-board entertainment and vehicle maintenance will pile on to that.

To show off the perks of autonomous cars, Renault built a fully-working prototype called Symbioz that is capable of self-driving on the open highway. Redzic says drivers will be compelled to dish out on a car that lets them take their eyes off the road, allowing them to answer e-mails, watch movies or recline in their seats.

“Autonomous cars will bring more value to our existing customers,” Redzic said. “The vehicle itself is valuable and also services will generate a lot of value. We want to take a fair share.”

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