Navya Technologies SAS will roll its robot-driven automobiles onto the cobbled streets of Paris in the next few weeks to try and beat behemoths from General Motors Co. to Alphabet Inc. at proving autonomous cars are safe.
The French startup’s 15-seater driverless shuttles have been dodging bankers and corporate executives in the capital’s business district of La Defense since July. Now, the company backed by investors including car-parts maker Valeo SA is manufacturing a smaller SUV to seat 6, that will start selling for some 250,000 euros ($290,000) in about a year. It unveiled prototypes of the so-called “robotaxi” in Paris.
Navya is extending its strategy of designing both the vehicles and their software from scratch and in-house, in a bid to bring a finished fully-autonomous vehicle to market faster than a crowd of rivals.
“We’re the first to conceive and manufacture a vehicle that is made to be fully autonomous, instead of adapting an existing car,” Navya Chief Executive Officer Christophe Sapet said. “We want to be the first company to offer a full comprehensive line-up of autonomous vehicles.”
GM has a car-sharing business called Maven and its Cruise Automation unit’s tests on autonomous vehicles have helped drive investor expectations that the automaker has two essential ingredients to set up a lucrative robotaxi operation.
Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Alphabet Inc, has bet on buying vehicles from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and implementing its technology into autos manufactured by others.
More broadly, venturing into the car business can be a very costly adventure: Dyson Ltd., best-known as a manufacturer of
vacuum cleaners, is pumping
$2.7 billion into developing an electric car by 2020, which isn’t even driverless. The company has 400 engineers dedicated to the project. Navya’s means are a fraction of that at Dyson’s disposal.
Navya’s new cabs, priced between 230,000 euros and 250,000 euros and with a top speed of about 80 kilometres per hour, will be tested in the streets of Paris in a few weeks and start selling from the third quarter of 2018, Sapet said. The first experiments will be conducted with French transport operator Keolis SA and the Royal Automobile Club of Australia, which in total have pre-ordered about 30 cars, he said.
Potential customers range from ride-hailing operators like Uber Technologies Inc to car rental platforms like Hertz Corp and Avis Budget Group, Sapet said. Tech companies like Apple Inc or even the automakers themselves, such as Renault SA or Volkswagen AG, are also on Sapet’s target list.
The challenge for Navya is that many of those potential buyers already have their own plans to develop autonomous vehicles.
Separately, experiences from companies including Tesla Inc have shown making the driverless car a reality is complicated. Rival self-driving startup NuTonomy Inc was snatched up by car-parts maker Delphi Automotive Plc in October for $450 million.