Detroit — The coronavirus pandemic is proving to be yet another obstacle for the self-driving and ride-sharing movement, delaying the widely touted arrival of next-generation automotive technology.
Ford Motor Co. is postponing for a year the commercial deployment of its autonomous vehicles. Waymo LLC, the self-driving unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc., had to temporarily suspend its on-road testing and its ride-hailing offerings in Arizona. Uber Advanced Technologies Group recently announced layoffs of 3,500, citing the pandemic. And General Motors Co. is shutting down Maven, the car-sharing service that debuted in 2016 as the wave of the future.
With demand for car-sharing and ride-sharing diminishing sharply in the age of social-distancing and other forms of vigilant hygiene, companies are shifting their focus to using driverless vehicles to deliver goods before they ferry people — a reversal of a robo-taxi future envisioned just a few years ago, courtesy of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Expensive electrification programs that have yet to create revenue for automakers, however, continue despite automakers losing billions with auto plants closed for eight weeks and many dealerships unable to sell vehicles with stay-at-home orders in place during the pandemic. Still, the prevailing industry consensus holds that electric vehicles must be an option for consumers, and electrified powertrains are the foundation of self-driving vehicles and future mobility technologies.