Israeli autonomous car technology developer Mobileye has signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer (China's Tesla), in which dozens of NIO's cars will be imported to Israel for the development and trials of a fleet of robotaxis.
According to the original plan, Mobileye has been working with Volkswagen and Israeli VW importer Champion Motors on the robotaxi project since a joint venture agreement was signed on the matter in November 2018. According to that agreement, Mobileye would commence advanced trials in 2021 using Volkswagen's new electric minivan. However, the prototype of the VW minivan, on which Mobileye was due to mount its technological "kit" has yet to reach Israel, and it is not clear when the minivans will arrive.
It is now believed that Mobileye will begin the trials with a fleet of dozens of NIO vehicles and the Volkswagen minivans will join the trials at a more advanced stage. As reported by "Globes" in May, NIO vehicles were already in Israel and undergoing trials in Mobileye's labs.
According to the project's original time table, the development and trials stage was meant to continue through until early 2021 including installation and development of Mobileye's kit of sensors and processors, which would give the vehicle Level 4 autonomy - the ability to move along mapped and restricted routes without a driver. Between 2021 and 2022 the pre-commercialization stage was meant to begin in which the minivans would run on selected routes without paying passengers. From early 2022 the robotaxi service would begin operating on a commercial for-profit basis.
In the pre-commercial phase, the vehicles will travel along 15 kilometers of roads in Tel Aviv between Ibn Gbriol Street and Yarkon Street and at a later stage along more than 33 kilometers of roads including sections of the Ayalon Highway in south Tel Aviv. As far as is known, no such trials have yet begun on the streets of Tel Aviv. According to the original timetable the number of routes would gradually expand to most densely populated parts of Israel from 2023.
Mobileye said, "Volkswagen is still part of the project and the changes have been carried out in coordination with it." But Mobileye decline to comment on how the timetable has been influenced by the Covid-19 crisis, the absence of the VW minivans, and the slow pace of regulatory adoption in Israel.
Another question mark hovers around the setting up of the project's operations and support network that is supposed to be undertaken by Champion Motors and include the import, maintenance and charging as well as command and control of each Volkswagen vehicle.
NIO Inc. (NYSE: NIO), which has a market cap of $64 billion, has no official representative in Israel but this project could pave the way for the general import of the Chinese company's electric cars. Since the end of 2019, the company's share price has risen 2,000% and it has a far higher market cap than BMW.
The robotaxi fleet in Tel Aviv, or Mobility as a Service (MAAS), will be one of the first of its kind worldwide. It is expected to receive government backing, which will include the right to travel on public transport lanes, regulatory assistance in setting up fast charging points at key locations along routes, and overall regulatory and legal measures that will permit commercial journeys of driverless cars.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 1, 2020
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