Uber sells its self-driving vehicle division

Uber is selling off its autonomous vehicles development arm as the ride-hailing company slims down after its revenues were pummelled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Self-driving vehicle technology company Aurora will acquire the employees and technology behind Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group in a stock transaction, the companies said on Monday.

Uber will also invest 400 million dollars (£299 million) into Aurora, and Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will join Aurora’s board of directors.

After the transaction, Aurora will be worth 10 billion dollars (£7.49 billion) and Uber will hold a 26% stake in the company, Aurora CEO Chris Urmson said in an interview.

“Our first product will be in trucking and freight, but we look forward to taking this great team that we have and accelerating that while continuing working on light vehicles and ride-haling, and we’ll ultimately see our vehicles deploying on the Uber network,” Mr Urmson said.

Uber will not have exclusive rights as a ride-hailing company to Aurora’s technology, but the two companies will have a “preferred relationship,” Mr Urmson said.

San Francisco-based Uber will lose a critical piece of its company after the pandemic cut into its finances by suppressing demand for shared rides. Its path to profitability has often been linked with its plans to deploy autonomous vehicles and reduce the high cost of paying drivers.

The company’s efforts around self-driving technology were marred in March 2018 when one of its automated test vehicles hit and killed a woman, the first death involving the technology.

The backup Uber driver involved in the crash was charged with negligent homicide for being distracted in the moments before fatally striking the woman in suburban Phoenix.

Uber TfL legal case
Uber TfL legal case

“There’s no doubt they had a pretty rough couple of years a while back,” Mr Urmson said. “What’s been impressive to me in meeting the team over the last little while is just how much the team has learned, and the tenaciousness, and determination of the team as they come to market in a thoughtful, safe way.”

Gaining customers’ trust is a huge factor, said Dan Morgan, vice president of Synovus Trust Company. “You have one or two bad accidents and people are like, ‘I’m not getting into that thing’,” he said.

California-based Aurora is led by former Google, Tesla and Uber executives. Aurora also has partnerships with delivery giant Amazon and auto companies Hyundai and Kia, among others, but its partnership with Uber is its first official relationship with a ride-hailing company.

The move will help Uber find a quicker path to profitability, said Steven Fox, founder and CEO of Fox Advisors.

“It accomplishes the best of both worlds for them. It takes away a big profit drag and keeps them strategically well-positioned for when they want to move parts of their network to be autonomous,” he said.