Driverless Taxis: Lessons on Innovation

Driverless Taxis: Lessons on Innovation

Xavier Pavie 01/01/2018 13

In the last few years, the arrival of private-hire cars such as Uber, Hitch, or Grab on the market has transformed the mindset of taxi drivers. Previously, they used to live comfortably, facing almost no competitors. As a result, there is little or no incentive for them to improve their service and attitude. Now, given the competitive edge that private-hire cars have over them, taxi companies have no choice but to improve their services.

For one, the private-hire car service offers a more comfortable ride with passenger-friendly features. In addition, drivers often exhibit excellent customer service, in terms of their behavior and attentiveness. Last but not least, they improved the reservation process and made it easier, faster, and more reliable for passengers (in terms of geo-localization, service evaluation, payment facility, and waiting time, etc).

It has been a few years since these new competitors entered the market and it is now evident that their presence has helped old-fashioned taxi companies rise to the occasion, to finally meet the clients’ expectations. And yet, one may wonder if taxi drivers have really learnt their lesson. Does the growth of private-hire car companies really mean anything, when compared to the revolution that is actually taking place in this sector?

Today, for the first time in Singapore, it is possible to order a driverless taxi.

But behind this breakthrough is not one of the large local taxi companies, as one may expect. Instead, it is Grab. Founded only 5 years ago, the start-up teamed up with NuTonomy, the company that developed the world’s first driverless car, to launch a self-driving car service in the Lion City in late August, beating Uber (who only started trials in Pittsburg beginning of September) in the race towards driverless cars.

If it seems clear that the benefits brought on by private-hire cars were ‘simple’ incremental innovations, what’s taking place now is a rather disruptive innovation that is on its way to put an end to a trade that has not learnt from recent failures. It’s not a question of financial means, since traditional taxi companies have way more financial back-up and power collectively, compared to these start-ups. Grab’s success, in this case, can be attributed to their greater levels of organizational agility, skill, and anticipation for challenges.  

So what is it that causes ‘traditional’ companies to remain passive in the face of innovation? Many of them are not concerned with rumors of competition, and unrealistically so - as Google, Uber, Apple, and Tesla’s breakthroughs continue to make headlines. Moreover, such companies often seem to be at a loss – not knowing what to do, where to start – and lack the ability to act like entrepreneurs. Eventually, they stop trying to create a favorable ecosystem, and instead choose to turn a blind eye to the happenings outside their corporation, failing to act on any proposals made by young innovators or university incubators. Just as how pharmacists may become obsolete with the introduction of automation and the availability of drug information on the internet, and how a school can antiquate itself by ignoring the future of digital teaching, traditional taxi companies may very well disappear within the next fifteen years if nothing changes.

Innovation’s only goal is to help companies to survive, by encouraging them to change and adapt to their environment. This has nothing to do with financial means, nor with special skills. It is, above all, simply a matter of attitude and behavior. Hence, it is essential to question oneself before it’s too late, and to keep an open eye on the changes taking place around the world. These qualities are the price of transformation, as well as the essence of any innovator. 

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  • Gabriel Prosser

    As a programmer I can't wait for this.

  • Dan Wipper

    Change is always scary. but it is also relentless. Get used to the idea because it's coming, and we really can't stop it or know what may or not happen.

  • John Smith

    I am all for driverless taxis

  • John Smith

    This will elevate a lot of accidents and headaches from our current 'mass transit' system.

  • Stephen Tarr

    I'm all for driverless taxis, however I will not share my ride with others, I'd rather focus on my safety first and be given the option to drive.

  • Jason Young

    This piece is so impressive on many points

  • David Andersson

    This is so cool! So glad I'm alive to see this amazing transition

  • Zia Rehman

    Traffic will be eliminated with automation

  • Joseph Dan

    Where's the excitement for getting a taxi when you can't really have a conversation with someone?

  • Mike001

    In reply to: Joseph Dan

    I personally feel better when I am on my own

  • Kumar Mohit

    This is the future and I can't wait.

  • Stoney Curtis

    Tech companies are so concerned about human error but what about technological error? This kind of innovation might sound cool to some people, but it is the next step in granting more control over to government and corporations.

  • Christina Bobitch

    taxi drivers will become useless

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Xavier Pavie

Higher Education Expert

Xavier Pavie is a Professor at ESSEC Business School, he is Director of the iMagination Center, Associate Academic Director Grande Ecole (MiM) - Singapore - and Research Associate at the IREPH (Research Institute in Philosophy). After spending nearly fifteen years in various organizations (Nestlé, Unilever, Club Méditerranée) in marketing and innovation roles, he joined ESSEC in 2008 as Director of the Institute for Strategic Innovation & Services.  In 2014, he founded the iMagination Center whose activities are centered on imagination, innovation and transdisciplinarity. In 2015, iMagination Week received the Prize for Pedagogical Excellence. In 2017 iMagination week is recognized as one of the most innovative pedagogical method accross disciplines by AASCB and The Wharton - QS Stars Reimagine Education Awards.  Xavier has published numerous books and articles in management and philosophy both academically and for a wider audience. He also regularly contributes to the Harvard Business Review, Les Echos and La Tribune. Xavier holds a Master in Management, a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Université Paris Ouest. He also holds a further teaching qualification -International Teachers Programme of HEC Paris.

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