Waymo inked a deal with Nissan and Renault to bring its driverless cars and trucks to France and Japan, the companies announced Thursday.
The wording of the deal is vague and doesn’t indicate any concrete plans to launch either robot taxi or delivery services, as Waymo has done in the past with its other automotive partners. Instead, the three companies will simply “explore driverless mobility services for passengers and deliveries.”
“This is an ideal opportunity for Waymo to bring our autonomous technology to a global stage, with an innovative partner,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik said in a statement. “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.”
“This is an ideal opportunity for Waymo to bring our autonomous technology to a global stage”
The news comes as reports have surfaced about tension between the Japanese-French automotive alliance. (Nissan and Renault are both part of a consortium with Japan’s Mitsubishi.) The Financial Times, citing current and former employees, recently reported that some departments that oversee shared parts of the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance are being cut, and others “have received no new work in months.” Carlos Ghosn, former Renault CEO and chairman of both Nissan and Mitsubishi, was a cheerleader for the alliance before his arrest on allegations of financial misconduct in November.
Into this chaos steps Waymo, the Alphabet subsidiary that has been testing its self-driving minivans outside of Phoenix for almost two years. Those vehicles are modified Chrysler Pacifica minivans. The company has partnered with both Fiat-Chrysler and Jaguar-Land Rover to build driverless cars. This deal with Nissan-Renault, though, marks the first time Waymo is teaming up with an automaker that already has self-driving technology under development.
Nissan, for example, has a fairly good advanced driver assist system with ProPilot Assist, the 2.0 version of which recently received government approval in Japan. ProPilot Assist is a Level 2 self-driving system, which allows the vehicle to control speed, distance from other cars, and keeping the car in the intended lane with minimal input from the driver. Cameras detect lane markings at highway speeds, and then adaptive cruise control, lane-keep, and blind spot detection systems keep you in that lane until you deliberately change lanes.
Waymo is rumored to have been in talks with Nissan-Renault since February. Other deals between the Google spinoff and automakers have failed to emerge. Last year, Bloomberg reported that a deal between Waymo and Honda fell through partly due to Waymo’s reluctance to share aspects of its driverless technology.
That has changed as the industry continues to consolidate. Ford, which has Argo AI as its main driverless technology supplier, is in talks with Volkswagen about sharing the costs of building self-driving car fleets. General Motor’s driverless subsidiary, Cruise, is partnering with Honda, while Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group is growing closer with Toyota. Fiat-Chrysler and Hyundai, along with Amazon, are both partners with self-driving startup Aurora. (The Drive’s Ed Niedermeyer wrote a great piece on all these developments earlier this week.)
It was once thought that Silicon Valley would devour the auto industry, but now it appears to be trending toward mutual cooperation.
Update June 20th, 12:15pm ET: FCA has partnered with self-driving startup Aurora. A previous version of this story incorrectly described the automaker as an investor.