- Volkswagen, Champion Motors and Mobileye, an Intel company, will form a joint venture to launch a self-driving taxi service in Israel, the companies announced at a smart mobility summit in Tel Aviv. The companies will operate as "New Mobility in Israel" and plan to launch commercially in 2019.
- The venture will act as a global beta test site for Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) using autonomous electric vehicles (EVs), according to a release. The project will launch in phases, growing from a few dozen vehicles to a fleet of hundreds by 2022.
- Volkswagen will supply a fleet of EVs for the taxi service, while Mobileye will contribute its level-4 autonomous vehicle (AV) software package, including driving policy and map data. Champion Motors, Israel’s second-largest car importer and distributor, will handle fleet logistics.
The new venture is a major step for VW into the autonomous mobility world, with the potential to have an active fleet of autonomous taxis running through a major city within a year. That puts it on pace with competitors like Waymo, which has said it will launch an autonomous taxi service in Arizona this year.
By focusing on a taxi service, the joint venture is also eyeing a way to introduce consumers to autonomous technology without putting them behind the wheel, and transitioning towards a possible future where car ownership is no longer necessary. In a statement to The Verge, an Intel spokesman said the venture “is not a pilot project,” but was the "first of its kind targeting Level 4/5 commercial MaaS."
Crucially, the venture has the support of the Israeli government, which can offer regulatory and legal assistance and access to infrastructure as needed. That will help clear some hurdles to deployment.
The venture will also offer a showcase for VW’s electric fleet, which the company is heavily promoting in the U.S. in the aftermath of its emissions regulation cheating scandal. Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess said in a statement that the project will "offer Israel and cities around the world safe, clean and emission-free mobility, which is accessible and convenient."