With Easy Ride trial, Nissan to rival Uber

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Nissan Motor is taking its first steps to becoming an operator of autonomous automobile services, wanting to get into a segment set to be dominated by Uber and other similar companies.

While automakers for more than a century have based their business models on specific vehicle ownership, Japan’s No. 2 automaker and its competitors are now getting ready for a future in which self-driving cars are prepared to suppress vehicle ownership.

In partnership with Japanese mobile gaming platform operator DeNA Co, Nissan will start public field tests of its Easy Ride service in Yokohama next month, becoming one of the first major automakers anywhere to evaluate ride-hailing software developed in-house, using its own fleet of self-driving electric vehicles.

Easy Ride, which Nissan prepares to launch in Japan in the early 2020s, is suggested to feel more like a concierge service on wheels, making – for example – restaurant recommendation while the vehicle is on the move.

The announcement follows an agreement by Nissan and its automaking partners Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp previously this month to check out future cooperation with Chinese transport services conglomerate Didi Chuxing.

These relocations mark a push by the automaker to prevent becoming the “Foxconn of the automobile market”: a mere car provider to ride- and car-sharing companies.

“We understand that it’s going to take time to become a service operator, however we wish to enter into this segment by partnering with companies which are professionals in the field,” Nissan’s chief executive, Hiroto Saikawa, informed Reuters in an interview this month. An individual close to the offer has said that the agreement is planned to check out chances for Nissan and others to provide battery-electric cars to Didi Chuxing for a new electric car-sharing service it is setting up in China.

He noted that Nissan and its alliance partners could check out a broader contract, which might perhaps include Nissan offering self-driving taxi innovation to the dominant Chinese ride-hailing service.

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