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Uber Plans to Open Technology Office in Wixom

Aim is to be closer to suppliers, automakers

Post Date:01/17/2017 8:25 AM

Posted to crainsdetroit.com, January 11, 2017
by Richard Truett

Photo by Uber

Ride-hailing service Uber plans to open a technical center in Wixom to be closer to tier-one suppliers and automakers, a top executive for the company told the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit on Wednesday.

Sherif Marakby, vice president of global vehicle systems for Uber, first revealed the plan to open a metro Detroit technology outpost in September, but the location was previously unknown. He said at the time that the Detroit area, like Pittsburgh, could also become a testing ground for Uber's self-driving hailing service.

Although Uber is working to perfect self-driving vehicles, drivers’ jobs are not endangered, Marakby said Wednesday.

Marakby said a key reason for deploying self-driving vehicles is to reduce costs to consumers during peak demand times in which prices can be as much as five times higher. Some Uber customers have criticized “surge pricing” — higher rates during peak demand — as a form of gouging.

“Automated vehicle technology is getting more and more ready to happen,” Marakby said, “and Uber wants to be part of it. We don’t see automated vehicles as taking over completely. The biggest problem in ride-sharing is supply — having enough drivers in peak times. Automated vehicles will help smooth out surge times.”

“The main focus [of the Advanced Technical Group] is integration of autonomy into vehicles,” Marakby said. Many engineers were coming to Detroit on day trips to visit with suppliers. It just felt right to have a place here where engineers could work with suppliers and original equipment manufacturers.”

Marakby, 50, a 25-year Ford Motor Co. veteran, joined Uber in April 2015. His job is to oversee the integration of hardware and Uber-developed software into the company’s self-driving vehicles.

In a question-and-answer session, Marakby said ride-hailing and ride-sharing services will not hurt new-car sales. He said most vehicles today are used only 4 percent of the time. Cars being used by such services will see that number increase, which will cause them to wear out faster, he said, and automakers will still provide parts and service.

- Automotive News is a Crain Communications Inc. publication.