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Hyundai Motor hires crack team to catch up on self-driving taxis

This is to compete with rivals like Nissan, General Motors, and tech firms such as Google's Waymo

Sohee Kim | Bloomberg 

Autopilot was designed for use on highways with no chance of cross-traffic. Photo: iSTOCK

In the future of transportation, what would you get if you mixed the business models of Tesla, and Electronics Co with the budget of the world’s fifth-biggest automaker?

Youngcho Chi is about to find out.

Hired from Samsung, Chi has assembled a team of 200 strategists and researchers at Motor Co, the 50-year-old South Korean carmaker that fought its way to the top echelon of the auto world and is now struggling to stem flagging sales in some of its biggest markets. His job is to catapult into the forefront of technologies that are upending transportation. Late to the game, is developing vehicles and software systems for a planned driverless taxi service to compete with both its traditional rivals like Nissan Motor Co and Co, and tech such as Waymo, the unit of Google’s parent Alphabet, which has vowed to offer fully for public use soon.

“The most urgent task for us is the mobility service,” said Chi, 58, chief innovation officer and executive vice president in charge of Hyundai’s Strategy & Division, in an interview at his office in Seoul. “We’re a bit late, but the opportunity has not been completely shut down.”

He has the backing of one of the world’s biggest industrial enterprises. has said it will step up spending on research and development and expand cooperation. It opened a data centre in Guizhou province in China and a development center in Silicon Valley in 2017 and plans to set up units to invest in start-ups in Israel and Berlin this year. Chi’s division will coordinate their activities, creating a blueprint to integrate everything from artificial intelligence to robotics to energy storage. In a break from its traditional go-it-alone strategy, the automaker has stitched up partnerships with Cisco Systems Inc. and Baidu for connected cars, and teamed up with SK Telecom Co. and Hanwha Asset Management Co. to set up a $45 million fund to invest in AI, smart mobility and fintech.

As the industry shifts away from conventional gasoline-powered vehicles with drivers, software and vehicle-related applications are becoming key to the future for automakers. McKinsey & Co estimates revenue from mobile and data-driven services in transportation will jump to $1.5 trillion by 2030, fuelled by shared mobility and data connectivity services. While Chi declined to say when the will be ready, Koh Tae-bong, a senior analyst at Hi Investment & Securities said may not be able to commercialise a self-driving shared mobility service before 2021.

“In order to start a robotaxi business overseas, it is essential for them to have strategic partnerships with ICT such as telecommunications, map and big data firms, and have testing periods before rolling self-driving taxis on the road,” Koh said.


First Published: Fri, January 05 2018. 03:32 IST