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Uber buys 24,000 new self-driving cars, but not for SF

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A self-driving Uber car takes a test drive on December 14, 2016, in San Francisco Calif. (Aleah Fajardo/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Uber has ordered up 24,000 Volvo SUVs for its driverless car fleet, but it seems few — if any — of those driverless cars will head to the tech giant’s home base in San Francisco.

Bloomberg News reported Monday that Uber agreed to buy 24,000 of the Volvo XC90’s, which will be delivered between 2019 and 2021. But Uber confirmed that most of those vehicles would go to cities allowing self-driving passenger pilots, including Pittsburgh, Pa. and Tempe, Ariz.

“The majority of these cars” will be in those two cities, where Uber has also completed more than 30,000 self-driving car rides with passengers, said Chelsea Kohler, an Uber spokesperson.

Kohler told the San Francisco Examiner that Uber has more than a dozen self-driving cars in San Francisco, where the California DMV has approved them for testing.

“Things could change between then and now,” she added, when asked if San Francisco would see any of the 24,000 self-driving cars between now and their delivery in 2021.

She noted that the vehicles are meant to test new software and hardware, and are not built for scale manufacturing or “true autonomy,” which involves removing the driver.

“Our new agreement agreement allows Uber to order tens of thousands of vehicles for purpose of fully autonomous vehicle production,” she said, “and “puts us on the path toward mass produced self-driving vehicles at scale.”

Uber launched a self-driving pilot in Tempe in a partnership announced on the heels of a contentious rollout in San Francisco late last year.

Though thousands of self-driving vehicles may not hit the streets of San Francisco immediately, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Public Policy Jim Lazarus was optimistic about the company’s future in The City.

“I don’t think it’s a concern they’re going to bypass urban San Francisco,” he said. “How do you roll out a product like this in a very congested area?”

He said Tempe’s smaller size likely made it ideal to test the vehicles en masse first, but when the bugs are all worked out, he expects to see them in The City.

“The company is headquartered here. Lyft is headquartered here. We’re ground zero for the industry,” Lazarus said. “I think it’s gonna happen.”

Editor’s note: The story has been updated to clarify that Uber has agreed to buy the cars, but has not bought them yet.

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