Uber has announced its intentions to purchase thousands of Volvo XC90 SUVs that will be specifically modified for autonomous driving. The company is estimating that it will purchase around 24,000 vehicles at a cost of more than $1.9 billion. The vehicles will be delivered between 2019 to 2021.
The exact number of vehicles purchased will depend on a number of different factors. The number could go up or down depending on how the technology or regulatory environment changes. Uber will be assuming liability for its autonomous systems while Volvo will be liable for the underlying car components.
The goal is to deploy cars designed to be operated without a driver. Uber’s new fleet of XC90s will incorporate redundant systems for braking and steering to allow them to operate without a human behind the wheel. The vehicles will come with some sensors and radar already installed, but Uber will have to install a roof rack with its system of cameras and a computer in the trunk to power all of the software.
Uber had partnered with Volvo since 2015 to develop the XC90, the base of Uber’s latest-generation self-driving test car. The XC90 starts at $46,900 in the U.S. in terms of base model consumer pricing. Uber is already testing the XC90 in Arizona, San Francisco and Pittsburgh to help refine and improve its software.
The move is a departure from Uber’s general business model. Uber doesn’t usually own the cars that use its ride-sharing network. The UberEats delivery businesses doesn’t own any restaurants.
Why Uber has decided to own thousands of cars and take responsibility for them is a question many are asking. Uber says that the purchase is part of its commitment to being a leader in bringing self-driving cars to the streets. Jeff Miller, head of Auto Alliances at Uber, said that owning the vehicles “allows us to not sit on the sidelines and watch it happen, but to be an active participant.”
Rival Waymo, Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle unit, recently announced plans to launch its own self-driving ride hailing service. Waymo currently has a partnership with Fiat Chrysler for around 600 minivans for the service. No timeline has been given from either company for when the public might be able to access the services.