Fri, Jun 21, 2019 - Page 10 News List

Waymo planning robotaxi fleet with Renault, Nissan

AP, SAN FRANCISCO

Self-driving vehicle pioneer Waymo LLC is teaming up with automakers Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co to make its first journey outside the US with a ride-hailing service that is to dispatch a fleet of robotaxis in France and Japan.

The partnership announced late on Wednesday underscores Waymo’s ambition to deploy its driverless technology throughout the world in an attempt to revolutionize the way people move around.

The Mountain View, California, company can afford to try because it is backed by one of the world’s richest companies, Alphabet Inc, which secretly began working on driverless technology a decade ago before spinning off that project into what is now known as Waymo.

After launching its ride-hailing service in France and Japan, Waymo intends to explore other European and Asian markets with Renault and Nissan.

“This is an ideal opportunity for Waymo to bring our autonomous technology to a global stage,” Waymo chief executive officer John Krafcik said.

Waymo, Renault and Nissan did not set a timetable for when their ride-hailing service would launch and left most other details vague.

It is likely to be several years before Waymo is in a position to pose a serious challenge to Uber, the world’s largest ride-hailing service.

Although Waymo’s self-driving technology is widely considered to be the world’s most advanced, it still is not adept enough to be trusted without a human poised to take control in case something goes awry with the robot.

Waymo had hoped to launch a fully autonomous ride-hailing service last year in the Phoenix area, but instead is still keeping human safety drivers in those vehicles more than six months after it rolled out.

That service, known as Waymo One, is still only offering rides to a few hundred passengers that previously participated in a test program.

Krafcik told the German newspaper Handelsblatt last year that Waymo would likely use a different brand for its ride-hailing services outside the US.

That could be one reason Waymo is working with France-based Renault and Japan-based Nissan, household names in their home countries.

Waymo has previously struck deals with two automakers, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Jaguar Land Rover Automotive PLC, but those involved ordering tens of thousands of vehicles to be equipped with self-driving technology for services in the US.

So far, Waymo is only using Fiat Chrysler minivans for its Phoenix service.

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