By Chester Dawson
DETROIT -- Delphi Automotive PLC said Wednesday it is partnering with French bus and train operator Transdev to deploy a driverless on-demand transportation service this year using the automotive suppliers' automated driving technology.
The two companies said it would be the first self-driving vehicle service to operate on public roads in Europe, and that they are looking for additional pilot program sites in North America. The French projects target short-distance commutes to and from train stations.
The project showcases Delphi's system for automated braking and steering using multiples sensors as it attempts to reinvent itself as a high-tech player in the development of next-generation vehicles.
"It's really provides a clear pathway to commercialization," Glen De Vos, the company's chief technology officer, told reporters on a conference call. Delphi plans to make the core technology involved commercially available to other customers by 2019, he said.
Mr. De Vos declined to say how much Delphi will invest in the pilot programs and whether, it expects to recoup those costs.
Transdev, a subsidiary of France's state-owned bank Caisse des Dépôts, plans to start the service later this year at a research campus south of Paris using a self-driving capable shuttle bus equipped with Delphi's technology.
They will also collaborate on a similar program starting this year in the Northern French town of Rouen in Normandy using a pair of Renault SA's ZOE compact electric vehicles also with Delphi's self-driving system.
A technician will be present in the vehicles during the startup phase this year, but the companies expect to phase that out in 2018 once the service is tested and has met all regulatory requirements. "Our goal is not to have a driver in the vehicle as soon as possible," said Yann Leriche, Transdev's chief performance officer.
The Transdev partnership is the latest move by Delphi to stake a claim in the still embryonic market for self-driving vehicles. Last month, the company decided to split itself into two companies -- one focused on advanced driving systems and the other on commodity components.
Delphi's current senior management team plans to steer the as-yet unnamed higher tech company, which they view as having more growth potential and long-term value than the traditional "metal-bending" operations that have long been its core business.
Rapid advances in computer-assisted driving technology have attracted growing interest from potential rivals in Silicon Valley and forced Delphi and other automotive companies to adapt to a more competitive environment.
Write to Chester Dawson at [email protected]