AV Maker Navya Ramps Up U.S. Production

Production of Autonom, a 15-passenger fixed-route shuttle, is ramping up slowly. The facility began output earlier this year and averages a single unit per month.

James M. Amend, Senior Editor

October 24, 2018

5 Min Read
Navya plant manager Omar Siada talks about the production process.
Navya plant manager Omar Siada talks about the production process.James M. Amend

SALINE, MI – French autonomous-vehicle outfit Navya, which boasts of operating the first self-driving shuttle service in the world, begins production in North America after a successful IPO and brokers a supply agreement with a leading private-sector mobility services provider based in Cincinnati.

Navya CEO Christophe Sapet says details about the partnership with First Transit, a subsidiary of the multinational transport giant FirstGroup, will come later but it connects the shuttle maker with a company carrying 350 million passengers annually.

First Transit operates a shared transport network at 300 locations in 33 states, as well as overseas, for organizations such as transit authorities, municipalities, universities and private companies. It also stepped into the autonomous-shuttle movement early establishing five initiatives across North America so far.

It is expected the new manufacturing site here, an hour’s drive west of Detroit, will contribute shuttle production to the First Transit relationship.

Production of Autonom, a 15-passenger fixed-route shuttle, is ramping up slowly. The facility began output earlier this year and averages a single unit per month. Capacity is higher; in fact, a second shift will be added soon, bringing 20 more employees to the seven technicians, two-person support staff and plant manager now working the shop floor.

“If you know anyone with technical knowledge, let me know,” jokes Omar Siada, plant manager at the 20,000-sq.-ft. (1,858-sq.-m) facility.

Even at full capacity, production of the $300,000 shuttles is modest by industry standards. But to put it in context, while Navya has more than a decade of AV R&D under its belt the company began making shuttles just three years ago and has sold 100 of them to global customers.

Demand may be nascent today, but if governments around the world begin rewriting regulations for driverless shuttles and taxis on public roads as expected, the autonomous-vehicle segment is forecast to boom into a global $560 billion market annually by 2035, according to the consultancy AT Kearney. By 2055, some estimate it will overtake traditional piloted driving.

“The potential for the market is very high,” says Sapet, an entrepreneur who launched Navya in 2014 to combine his passion for digital and automotive.

Should those predictions prove correct, first-movers stand to grab a big share of that growth, which include robo-taxis also under development by Navya in a 6-passenger design with deployments planned soon for Lyon, France, and Perth, Australia.


Navya founder Sapet details company strategy.

The Saline location, a $2 million investment that shares an office campus with self-storage, cabinetry and personal-fitness businesses, is built to accommodate the expanding driverless-vehicle market. It currently utilizes a fraction of the manufacturing floorspace, which is laid out similar to a traditional, mass-production assembly line where the shuttles, rather than assemblers, move from station to station during the build process.

The production process begins with a locally fabricated steel frame and the addition of underpinnings such as the suspension, brakes and a 33-kWh lithium-iron phosphate battery. A fiberglass tub, also manufactured by a nearby supplier, is attached.

The shuttle then is wired, a quality-critical phase in the production process; connections to the PC stack are performed; the sensor-laden polyester body is set onto the tub; and items such as its double-wing doors, seats and glass are attached. Validation completes the shuttle’s assembly.

Navya can fabricate parts on-site for prototyping, but the company sources its parts and components from suppliers like any other OEM.

Navya software is proprietary, although the shuttles leverage NVIDIA computing. Sensors include eight lidars and front and rear cameras. Top speed is 16 mph (26 km/h) and curb weight approaches 5,300 lbs. (2,404 kg). The shuttle is just over 15 ft. long (4.6 m), nearly 7 ft. (2.1 m) wide and slightly under 9 ft. (2.7 m) tall.

Shuttles run 8-12 hours between charges. A charge to 90% from a 7.2-kW Level 2 charger takes four hours.

During a short ride around the Navya office campus, the shuttle makes a single stop for an intersection its engineers programmed in to avoid a blind corner. It also deftly negotiates a truck and trailer stopped in the middle of the parking lot, a situation many human drivers likely could have trouble getting around.

As a precaution in such events, the shuttles include an Xbox-like controller for the shuttle’s human monitor, which are people deployed in units around the world until regulatory guidelines change.

It has been a busy year for Navya on the corporate front. It July, an initial public offering of €7 ($8) per share on the Euronext Paris stock market raised €37.6 million ($43.2 million) and market capitalization of €190 million ($218.3 million). It generated €10 million ($11.5 million) of revenue last year and expects to achieve profitability in the fourth quarter. It built 100 shuttles in the first half of this year and increased margin to 30% on the volume growth and production gains, Sapet says.

The company inked two additional partnership earlier this month with global insurer AXA and Charlatte Manutention, a maker of electric and internal-combustion-engine vehicles for industrial and airport application. As part of a 3-year partnership, AXA and Navya will tailor insurance programs to autonomous vehicles with the goal of reducing rates for operators, while the agreement with Charlatte creates a subsidiary to develop self-driving tractors to transport airport baggage.

French automotive supplier Valeo is Navya’s technology partner and Canadian public-transport operator Keolis is its deployment partner. Valeo and Keolis also are principal Navya shareholders.

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