With the number of self-driving trials pending in Singapore, the future of driving in the republic appears to be driverless.
In recent years, the nation has also opted for electric vehicles. All vehicles with combustion engines are to be phased out by 2040. These two trends are reflected in the hailstorm, which encompasses both public and private transport.
Currently, the hail market in Singapore is dominated by tech unicorns Grab and Gojek – the former launched in 2013 and the latter launched in 2018. However, a new and powerful challenger could soon join the fight: Tesla.
The U.S. automaker poses a twofold threat: it's both a major player in the electric vehicle market and ambitious as it will use its autonomous vehicle technology and privately owned Teslas to immediately start building robotaxi networks in some markets this year.
To be clear, Tesla cars cannot yet drive fully autonomously as the company is still in the process of refining its self-driving AI. Drivers have to pay to access the self-driving feature and must remain behind the wheel while the technology is in operation.
While Gojek (at least in Singapore) was calm on the self-propelled front, Grab is more involved on that front. Its president, Ming Maa, previously announced that the company intends to commercialize its Robotaxi service “definitely sooner” than 2022.
Tesla is expected to drive its Model 3 to Singapore again this year, as drivers here gradually switch to electric vehicles following the government's push. The American automaker could well advocate a dominant driving style as soon as its vehicles gain a foothold on the market.
Grab their self-driving ambitions against Tesla
In the field of autonomous driving, Tesla is more invested than Grab.
Tesla Autopilot / Image credit: David Paul Morris via Bloomberg
Since 2016, Tesla has been developing Autopilot: a vision-based driver assistance function that is a preliminary version of its program for self-driving artificial intelligence (AI). It uses eight cameras, radar and ultrasonic sensors to enable its vehicles to navigate the road.
Tesla's technology has been criticized by experts as being less secure, but more adaptable and scalable than LiDAR, the dominant sensor-based technology in autonomous vehicle development.
Grab & # 39; s commitment to self-driving vehicles, on the other hand, is limited to partnerships. The super app was a partner of the driverless taxi company NuTonomy to carry out robotaxi tests in Singapore in 2016, and in 2018 held talks with the Chinese hail giant Didi Chuxing about self-driving partnerships.
Since the self-driving projects being tested in Singapore are mostly based on LiDAR, Grab only needs to work with an accredited service provider like NuTonomy to roll out its Robotaxi offering, while regulatory approval of Tesla's visionary technology could be more difficult.
However, it is also possible that Singapore's smart nation drive will result in the government being more open to new technologies and Tesla approval coming sooner than expected.
It can also be interpreted that allowing sales of the Model 3 – which includes opt-in access to self-driving technology – could be a positive signal that the automaker's technology has withstood some government scrutiny.
One advantage of Tesla's technology over LiDAR is the amount of real world data that was used to train the self-driving AI.
Photo credit: Lex Fridman
According to Bloomberg, Tesla collected over three billion miles of driving data in 2020, while Aptiv – which is part of NuTonomy – only collected over a million miles. Tesla can use this data to refine its AI and achieve the security levels required by governments.
Tesla sells cars, but Grab doesn't own any
Assuming that both Grab and Tesla have clear safety regulations while introducing autonomous ride hail, the next battle will be at cost and network size.
Grab, the most established ride hail player in Singapore, has already developed a mature ecosystem of rider partners.
On the other hand, Tesla is a newcomer, and the success of its Robotaxi network depends, among other things, on the number of drivers it has subscribed to.
With Tesla's price tag being on par with luxury sedans, it remains to be seen whether the promise of additional revenue will motivate owners to add their cars to the network.
However, a national shift towards the use of electric vehicles means a larger pool of potential Tesla buyers and thus network participants. Additionally, Tesla has announced that it is ready to license its self-driving software, potentially spicing up its network with other brands of cars.
In terms of cost, Tesla has the advantage because of its business model. Cars are mainly sold, so the buyer pays the price for self-driving software and hardware.
On the other hand, Grab's costs include the procurement of an entire self-driving fleet or the installation of LiDAR technology in the vehicles of its driver partners. This means that a Robotaxi network has a significantly higher cost that can have an impact on the business if passed on to drivers or budget conscious consumers.
Grab might rule now, but Tesla can catch up
Photo credit: Vulcan Post
With autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles mass rolling out in a few years' time, it may take players some time to hold their own in the Robotaxi sphere, but because of their investments in the region, it's Grab and Tesla that are competing to get out on top.
In the short term, Grab is the likely winner as Tesla's ability to expand its ride-hail network is entirely dependent on regulatory approval, while the super app has the flexibility to use any approved software.
In addition, Tesla needs time to build market share and thus its hail network, while Grab already has an established ecosystem.
Still, Tesla is better positioned to thrive in the medium to long term as its proprietary self-driving technology is more refined, scalable, and cost-effective than Grab's.
If both companies get government approval around the same time, the automaker can give the super app a run for its money.
On the other hand, Grab may not even develop its own robotaxi, but partner Tesla instead of competing. This would then be a win-win situation for both parties.
Selected image source: PR Daily / Grab