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Get Used To Lyft, Waymo And Uber, They Could Power The Midlands Engine

World's first fully self-driving ride on public roads

The Midlands Engine is largely powered by the auto industry, but in a week when JLR announced it will shed 1,000 agency jobs in Solihull, dramatising the problems diesel car making will face in an increasingly anti-diesel age, some fear the Midlands Engine is in danger of spluttering to a halt.

Can driverless cars come to the rescue? The answer depends which of several autonomous vehicle taxi businesses establish themselves as the market leader, as some have deeper ties in the Midlands than others.

The contenders appear to be Waymo, Uber and Lyft.

Uber starts with a big advantage — it is big and well-known, with a large customer base — but the March accident which saw one of their autonomous vehicles kill a woman in Arizona has cast doubt on their progress. Uber has used Volvo SUVs in its trials of self-drive car hire services, and has arrangements with Fiat Chrysler.

Waymo, the autonomous cars arm of the Google Alphabet empire, has yet to launch their autonomous vehicle taxi service — it is due later this year — but rather than team up with Volvo, they have sided with JLR. They have been testing a self-drive version of the I-Pace SUV with a view to including it in their fleet by 2020. As many as 20,000 JLR vehicles could be built for Waymo, who also have arrangements with Daimler.

A third car hire app — Lyft — is expanding into automonomous taxi operation and has partnered Ford.

Hybrid Range Rover CutAway

If Waymo makes headway, the $1.3B joint venture with JLR could be good news for Coventry, the location JLR has often touted as the home for its electric vehicle operation. The city will also host the U.K. Government's National Battery Manufacturing Development facility, making it the natural choice for progress on autonomous vehicles.

The spin-offs for the West Midlands industrial property sector could be profound: at its peak in the first half of 2017, the auto sector accounted for 46% of Midlands industrial property demand, according to Savills.

Today it is reported that up to 50 companies are trialling autonomous vehicles in Californiaalthough just two, including Waymo, are doing so without any human in the driving seat.

There are still big challenges for JLR, Coventry and the Midlands Engine, not the least of which is giving the I-Pace the right autonomous driving technology. Some think Elon Musk's Tesla has a head start. The I-Pace has a 90 kilowatt hours lithium-ion battery that is designed to travel for a maximum range of 298 miles — almost identical to that of a Tesla Model X, Wired reports.