Hyundai Motor Group and Motional, the Aptiv-Hyundai joint venture aimed at commercializing autonomous vehicles, announced plans on Tuesday to co-develop production-ready versions of the all-electric IONIQ 5 robotaxi at the automaker’s new innovation center in Singapore , the Hyundai Motor Group. Singapore Innovation Center (HMGICS).
Motional will roll out the vehicles as part of its commercial service in the United States starting in 2024. The company said the first models have already arrived and are undergoing testing and validation.
Motional has been rolling around prototype autonomous versions of the IONIQ SUV since March 2021, but production vehicles will be built with all driverless technology, like hardware and software, fully integrated on the assembly line. Production vehicles also differ from prototype versions because they are certified to U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), something prototype models were not, according to Motional. Being FMVSS certified means that vehicles meet minimum design and construction performance requirements to ensure occupant safety.
Before the current crisis, its competitor Cruise was trying to obtain authorization to mass produce its Origin robotaxi without a steering wheel or pedals (or even windshield wipers), and therefore did not fall under FMVSS standards. Motional has confirmed that the IONIQ 5 robotaxis will have a steering wheel and pedals that a human can operate.
Motional has not confirmed how many vehicles it has sent to the United States, in which markets it will deploy the vehicles or what HMGICS’ production capacity is.
The AV company currently operates in Las Vegas, where it offers service on the Uber, Lyft and Via platforms. About a year ago, Motional and Uber announced they would launch together in Los Angeles, but the two don’t appear to have made any progress on that plan. Neither company responded to TechCrunch in time to confirm. Uber and Motional are still running a pilot to test autonomous delivery in Santa Monica, but Motional does not have the necessary approvals to deploy autonomous service to the public in California.
Singapore as a manufacturing location makes sense for Motional for several reasons. First, Hyundai already assembles its IONIQ 5 utility vehicles there, so its state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities are already installed. HMGICS also supports audio-visual production with testing facilities and a calibration center, according to Hyundai. The Motional team will assist onsite with production, diagnostics, software development, calibration and validation.
The second reason is that Motional has a history with Singapore. Motional is a joint venture between Hyundai and Aptiv, formerly Delphi Automotive, which bought another self-driving car company called NuTonomy in 2017. NuTonomy was an MIT spinout that launched a robotaxi pilot in Singapore in 2016.
Although Motional said its current focus is on the U.S. market, the company wants to expand into international markets. Singapore, with its structured streets, small size, strict regulatory environment and government support for AVs, is undoubtedly an attractive potential market for AV companies.