Waymo, Alphabet-owned Google’s autonomous driving technology unit, has signed a major agreement with Renault-Nissan with a view to expanding its operations in Europe and Japan. The two companies will also cooperate in Waymo’s home market of the USA.
An exclusive agreement has been signed between the two companies, the length of which has not been revealed, that will seem them
“research commercial, legal and regulatory issues for revenue-generating mobility businesses, including autonomous ride services and goods delivery”.
As well as combining R&D and lobbying efforts, the crux of the partnership appears to set up the likelihood of commercial driverless services that will use fleets of Renault and Nissan vehicles fitted with Waymo’s driverless OS. No financial details around the partnership and project have been revealed.
Waymo CEO John Krafcik commented on the announcement:
“This is an ideal opportunity for Waymo to bring our autonomous technology to a global stage, with an innovative partner. With the Alliance’s international reach and scale, our Waymo Driver can deliver transformational mobility solutions to safely serve riders and commercial deliveries in France, Japan, and other countries.”
Of all of the pretenders jostling for position in the race for a slice of the future driverless market, Waymo is currently in pole position. The Google unit already has a limited commercial ‘robo taxi’ service operating along designated routes in Phoenix, Arizona. Launched last year it became the Western world’s first publically available driverless service. In China, start-up Pony.ai is also testing a robo taxi service with a limited number of users in Nansha, part of Guangzhou in southern China.
Waymo is taking a collaborative approach and its ambition appears to be centred around making its OS the driverless market leader. Partnerships already established, such as deals for the company to buy tens of thousands of Fiat Chrysler’s Pacifica Hybrid minivans and electric i-Pace Jaguar SUVs for its autonomous fleet, as well as tie-ups with ride hailing app Lyft and car rental giant Avis are indicative of that. The company appears to be taking a similar approach as it did with its Android smartphone OS. It looks more interested in becoming the go-to technology licenser than trying to dominate the market as a stand-alone operator.
The Renault-Nissan deal does mark Waymo’s first significant move to establish positions outside of the USA market and is being interpreted as a sign the company is picking up the pace of its market-entry strategy for the moment driverless vehicles are fully regulated to operate commercial services.
While Waymo does not currently generate any meaningful revenues, its strong starting position in what has been tipped as a hugely valuable new market has seen Morgan Stanley attach a colossal $175 billion valuation to the unit. Long term it is considered to have the potential to become one of Alphabet’s most profitable endeavours.