Nissan is taking on Uber with its own self-driving taxi service

  • Nissan said Friday it would conduct a field test of the service, called Easy Ride, in the Minatomirai district of Yokohama.
  • The development marks a challenge from a major auto manufacturer to ride-hailing upstarts like Uber.
  • Nissan and DeNA look to launch their autonomous taxi service to the wider public in the early 2020s.
Nissan | DeNA

Automaker Nissan and tech firm DeNA will test out a self-driving taxi service in Japan.

Nissan said Friday it would conduct a field test of the service, called Easy Ride, on March 5, in the Minatomirai district of Yokohama, along a set route of about 4.5 kilometers.

The cars will contain a tablet that shows a list of recommended destinations and the test participants can communicate through text or voice with Easy Ride's mobile app to choose where they want to go.

The development marks a challenge from a major auto manufacturer to ride-hailing upstarts like Uber that have transformed the private vehicle hire industry.

Nissan and DeNA look to launch their autonomous taxi service to the wider public in the early 2020s. Prior to a wider release, Nissan said both firms would look to develop expanded service routes and the provision of support for multiple languages.

Intense competition

Uber has tried to roll out its own self-driving taxi in the U.S. The company struck a deal to buy up to 24,000 autonomous cars from Volvo in November last year.

According to research, driverless "robotaxis" such as Uber's could slash fares by as much as 80 percent compared to today's prices.

But the nascent autonomous vehicle space has become fiercely competitive. Asian ride-hailing competitors like China's Didi Chuxing, Singapore's Grab and India's Ola have intensified competition with the Silicon Valley firm. Many are exploring their own versions of a driverless taxi service.

CNBC reported last week that Uber was preparing to sell its Southeast Asia business to Grab in exchange for a stake in the firm. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi appeared to downplay that strategy on a visit to India this week, insisting that the company would continue to invest heavily in Southeast Asia despite not making any money in the region.

Uber's self-driving car was faced with a huge legal battle against Waymo in February last year. Waymo had accused Uber of stealing trade secrets from the Alphabet-owned firm, although Khosrowshahi still maintained that this wasn't the case following the settlement.

That court battle finally came to an end earlier this month after the company settled the dispute with Waymo getting a 0.34 percent equity stake in Uber, equating to about $245 million of the latter's $72 billion valuation.

Japanese ride-hailing market

On Tuesday, Sony announced its own push into the ride-hailing market with its own artificial intelligence (AI)-based platform in Japan. The Japanese tech conglomerate said it would partner with Daiwa Motor Transportation and five other local taxi firms to build the AI-based service.

Uber CEO Khosrowshahi meanwhile met with regulators in Tokyo earlier this week, signaling plans to strike partnerships in the Japanese taxi industry.

Earlier this month, Didi Chuxing and Japanese tech giant SoftBank said they would launch a ride-hailing service, highlighting the former's ambition to expand across global markets.