Until last week, Uber has been mum about its self-driving efforts while it adjusts to new leadership and a public image makeover.
With a newly announced Volvo fleet, the ride-hailing giant showed it still is charging ahead on the path to deploy autonomous vehicles.
Uber announced a three-year agreement with Volvo Cars on Nov. 20 to buy up to 24,000 XC90 crossovers, capable of integrating Uber's self-driving technology, between 2019 and 2021. The deal, which is the largest of its kind to date, is a major step for the tech company to commercialize autonomous vehicles.
"Uber has been planning for a while and is investing in doing this at scale. Part of doing this at scale is making sure that you have a clear path toward a series-production, safety-certified autonomous vehicle," Jeff Miller, Uber's head of automotive alliances, told Automotive News Europe.
This year, Uber has dealt with one public relations blow after another. Just last week, news emerged that the company covered up the fact that hackers stole information on 57 million customers. Another misstep involved a trade secrets lawsuit brought by Google's self-driving unit, Waymo, that at one point threatened to halt Uber's autonomous vehicle development entirely.
The company's primary ride-hailing competitor, Lyft, has jumped on Uber's plummeting reputation, investing heavily in marketing and partnerships to lure customers. Some investors estimate Lyft has the potential to grow to one-third of the ride-hailing market by the end of the year.
Now, under the leadership of new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber is making a major upfront investment to return to the forefront of the self-driving car conversation.
"This is hugely significant," said Mike Ramsey, a technology analyst at consultancy Gartner Research. "It implies that they're closer to commercialized, fully autonomous vehicles than some anticipate."
The Uber-Volvo deal follows Waymo's announcement this month that it would deploy vehicles without a human in the driver's seat in its ride-hailing pilot in Arizona in the next few months. The deal with Volvo is much larger than Waymo's agreement with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which has supplied 100 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans retrofitted with Waymo's self-driving technology, with 500 more in the works.