Hyundai Motor Group and Motional, the Aptiv-Hyundai joint venture aimed at commercializing autonomous vehicles, announced plans 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 Innovation Center Singapore (HMGICS).
Motional will deploy the vehicles as part of its commercial service in the U.S. starting in 2024. The company said the first models have already arrived and are undergoing testing and validation.
Motional has been driving around prototype autonomous versions of the IONIQ SUV since March 2021, but the production vehicles will be built with all of the driverless technology, like hardware and software, fully integrated on the assembly line. The production vehicles also differ from the prototype versions because they are certified under the U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), which the prototype models were not, according to Motional. Being FMVSS certified means the vehicles meet minimum performance requirements for design and construction to ensure the safety of occupants.
Before its current crisis, competitor Cruise had been trying to get approval to mass produce its Origin robotaxi without a steering wheel or pedals (or even windshield wipers), and thus didn’t fall under FMVSS standards. Motional has confirmed that the IONIQ 5 robotaxis will have a steering wheel and pedals for a human to take over.
Motional wouldn’t confirm how many vehicles it has sent to the U.S., in which markets it will deploy the vehicles, or what HMGICS’s production capacity is.
The AV company is currently operating in Las Vegas, where it runs a service on the Uber, Lyft and Via platforms. About a year ago, Motional and Uber said they would launch together in Los Angeles next, but the two do not appear to have moved forward with those plans. Neither company responded in time to TechCrunch to confirm. Uber and Motional are still running a pilot to test autonomous delivery in Santa Monica, but Motional lacks the permits necessary to deploy an autonomous service to the public in California.
Singapore as a production location makes sense for Motional for a couple of reasons. First, Hyundai already assembles its IONIQ 5 commercial vehicles there, so its advanced manufacturing facilities are already set up. The HMGICS also supports AV production with testing facilities and a calibration center, according to Hyundai. Motional’s team will assist on site with production, diagnostics, software development, calibration and validation.
The second reason is that Motional has history with Singapore. Motional is a joint venture between Hyundai and Aptiv, formerly Delphi Automotive, which purchased another self-driving car company called NuTonomy in 2017. NuTonomy was an MIT spinout that launched a robotaxi pilot project in Singapore in 2016.
While Motional has said it is focused on the U.S. market currently, the company is interested in expanding into international markets. Singapore, with its structured streets, small size, strict regulatory environment and government support for AVs, is no doubt an attractive potential market for AV companies.