Self-driving shuttles may be a more receptive starting point for autonomous technology

Self-driving shuttles may be a more receptive starting point for autonomous technology

Likewise, Schaeffler Group of Germany is working with customers on self-driving shuttle concepts, executives said last week during the Detroit auto show. Like Bosch, Continental and ZF, Schaeffler’s first priority is to remain a supplier, developing components and software for customers.

But if automakers decide not to move ahead, Schaeffler potentially could. “Never say never,” said Matthias Zink, CEO of Schaeffler Automotive OEM. “For the future, we’ll see.”

While the industry buzzed last week over advances — and challenges — in bringing autonomous passenger vehicles to market, these roboshuttle concepts suggest a growing recognition that people movers and delivery vans could be a more cost-effective field for fully autonomous vehicles.

Vehicles that can operate as people movers or delivery trucks may have the best business case.

Last year, Toyota Motor Corp. unveiled the e-Palette concept, a multipurpose self-driving shuttle. Mazda, Amazon, Pizza Hut and Uber are partnering with Toyota to explore possible uses.

And in October, General Motors and Honda Motor Co. said they will work with GM’s Cruise unit to develop an autonomous vehicle that would serve “a wide variety of use cases.”

While each supplier is developing its own technology, they are pursuing similar deployment strategies. Each fleet would be serviced by fleet owners, used by trained employees and operated within geofenced areas.

“That will be the predominant market for highly automated vehicles for the next five to 10 years — and probably in perpetuity,” said Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst with Navigant Research. “You know they are going to be serviced on a regular basis, and you don’t have to worry where they’ll be taken.”

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