Whoa. According to various sources, ride-sharing giant Uber is reaching out to automobile manufacturers in an attempt to buy self-driving cars. A whole bunch of self-driving cars.
"They wanted autonomous cars," a confidential automotive industry source told Reuters, according to a March 18 article. "It seemed like they were shopping around."
This comes hot on the heels of a report from Germany's Manager Magazin claiming Uber had placed an order for at least 100,000 Mercedes-Benz S-Classes with autonomous capability, with deliveries starting around the year 2020. (That date lines up with Mercedes-Benz's stated timeline for an autonomous S-Class.) Manager claimed it had sources from both Mercedes-Benz and Uber to support the assertion. Reuters, on the other hand, said it spoke with a source familiar with the matter, who claimed no such order had been place.
Such an order would be a massive transaction for both Uber and Mercedes. The carmaker only builds around 100,000 S-Class models annually for the entire planet, so even if the order was filled over several years it would require a significant increase in S-Class production. Likewise, with the S-Class starting at $96,595 in the United States, an order for 100,000 units could cost close to $10 billion. (Though they'd presumably get some kind of Costco discount.)
For the moment, we're going to file this talk of Uber looking to buy a ton of autonomous cars in the "we'll believe it when we see it" folder. Obviously, a fleet of self-driving cars would save Uber a ton of money—no more drivers to pay!—but the technology is still very much in its infancy. Besides, self-driving cars are still subject to a hodgepodge of different laws and regulations across the planet. Here in the U.S., different states have vastly different rules on the subject, and Congress has just begun to scratch the surface of the issue.
And like Carl Sagan used to say: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.