With Easy Ride trial, Nissan takes new step toward being Uber competitor

A Nissan employee removes his hands from the steering wheel of a self-driving vehicle for Easy Ride service, developed by Nissan and mobile gaming platform operator DeNA Co. (Reuters)
Updated 23 February 2018
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With Easy Ride trial, Nissan takes new step toward being Uber competitor

YOKOHAMA: Facing a future in which self-driving cars may curb vehicle ownership, Nissan Motor is taking its first steps to becoming an operator of autonomous transportation services, hoping to break into a segment set to be dominated by Uber Technologies and other technology firms.
In partnership with Japanese mobile gaming platform operator DeNA Co, the automaker will begin public field tests of its Easy Ride service in Yokohama next month, becoming among the first major automakers anywhere to test ride-hailing software developed in-house, using its own fleet of self-driving electric cars.
Easy Ride, which Nissan plans to launch in Japan in the early 2020s, is meant to feel more like a concierge service on wheels, making — for example — restaurant recommendations while the car is on the move.
The announcement follows an agreement by Nissan and its automaking partners Renault and Mitsubishi Motors earlier this month to explore future cooperation with Chinese transportation services conglomerate Didi Chuxing.
These moves mark a push by the automaker to avoid becoming the “Foxconn of the auto industry“: a mere vehicle supplier to ride- and car-sharing companies.
“We realize that it’s going to take time to become a service operator, but we want to enter into this segment by partnering with companies which are experts in the field,” Nissan’s chief executive, Hiroto Saikawa, said in an interview this month.
A person close to the deal has said that the agreement is intended to explore opportunities for Nissan and others to supply battery-electric cars to Didi Chuxing for a new electric car-sharing service it is setting up in China.
He noted however that Nissan and its alliance partners could explore a broader agreement, which might possibly involve Nissan providing self-driving taxi technology to the dominant Chinese ride-hailing service.
Creating an upscale autonomous taxi service, rather than trying to beat other companies on price, could help Nissan against bigger competitors like Uber, market experts say.
“By doing something with a more premium feel, it could allow Nissan to charge more for its service and potentially relieve some of that profitability pressure they could face if they were to try to race to the bottom in terms of pricing,” said Jeremy Carlson, automotive analyst at IHS Markit.
Automakers are looking for ways to profit from the rise of car-sharing services, which along with self-driving cars, are likely to lead to a decrease vehicle ownership and chip away at future profits.
IHS Markit expects global sales of autonomous vehicles will soar to more than 33 million units in 2040 from 51,000 in 2021, while Goldman Sachs has predicted that the ride-hailing market will grow eightfold by 2030 to be five times the current size of the taxi market.
Nissan has embraced new technologies, launching the Leaf, the world’s first mass-market electric car, in 2010. The company was an early proponent of self-driving cars, pledging in 2013 that it would market fully autonomous cars in 2020.
Although it has been rolling out automated highway driving functions and self-parking capabilities in a growing number of its models, rivals ranging from Tesla to Subaru have installed increasingly advanced self-driving features in their cars.
GM and Daimler are building and expanding car- sharing services, and GM has said it plans to launch a self-driving taxi service next year.
Nissan also has its own car-sharing service using its ultra-compact battery electric models, but after years of trials, the service is available only in Yokohama, home to the automaker’s headquarters.
After bringing in Ogi Redzic, who previously led the automotive business group of mapping data firm Here Technologies, to head Renault-Nissan’s mobility services division in early 2016, Nissan in the past year or so has begun to gear up its strategy to compete in the new transportation area.
Its partner DeNA is one of the world’s biggest social gaming networks with 30 million users. The company’s expertise in developing real-time user interfaces and payment systems will help give shape to the taxi service platform.
The company already operates a user-sourced car-sharing app in Japan, and had been developing a self-driving taxi system with a Japanese robotics start-up before teaming up with Nissan.


US unveils new veto threat against WTO rulings

Updated 23 June 2018
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US unveils new veto threat against WTO rulings

  • US tells WTO appeals rulings in trade disputes could be vetoed if they took longer than the allowed 90 days
  • Trump, who has railed against the WTO judges in the past, threatens to levy a 20 percent import tax on European Union cars

GENEVA: The United States ramped up its challenge to the global trading system on Friday, telling the World Trade Organization that appeals rulings in trade disputes could be vetoed if they took longer than the allowed 90 days.
The statement by US Ambassador Dennis Shea threatened to erode a key element of trade enforcement at the 23-year-old WTO: binding dispute settlement, which is widely seen as a major bulwark against protectionism.
It came as US President Donald Trump, who has railed against the WTO judges in the past, threatened to levy a 20 percent import tax on European Union cars, the latest in an unprecedented campaign of threats and tariffs to punish US trading partners.
Shea told the WTO’s dispute settlement body that rulings by the WTO’s Appellate Body, effectively the supreme court of world trade, were invalid if they took too long. Rulings would no longer be governed by “reverse consensus,” whereby they are blocked only if all WTO members oppose them.
“The consequence of the Appellate Body choosing to breach (WTO dispute) rules and issue a report after the 90-day deadline would be that this report no longer qualifies as an Appellate Body report for purposes of the exceptional negative consensus adoption procedure,” Shea said, according to a copy of his remarks provided to Reuters.
An official who attended the meeting said other WTO members agreed that the Appellate Body should stick to the rules, but none supported Shea’s view that late rulings could be vetoed, and many expressed concern about his remarks.
Rulings are routinely late because, the WTO says, disputes are abundant and complex. Things have slowed further because Trump is blocking new judicial appointments, increasing the remaining judges’ already bulging workload.
At Friday’s meeting the United States maintained its opposition to the appointment of judges, effectively signalling a veto of one judge hoping for reappointment to the seven-seat bench in September.
Without him, the Appellate Body will only have three judges, the minimum required for every dispute, putting the system at severe risk of breakdown if any of the three judges cannot work on a case for legal or other reasons.
“Left unaddressed, these challenges can cripple, paralyze, or even extinguish the system,” chief judge Ujal Singh Bhatia said.
Sixty-six WTO member states are backing a petition that asks the United States to allow appointments to go ahead. On Friday, US ally Japan endorsed the petition for the first time, meaning that all the major users of the dispute system were united in opposition to Trump.