Waymo on Tuesday announced a partnership to build self-driving Jaguar luxury SUVs that can be deployed in the Silicon Valley company’s autonomous taxi fleet, a move that appears designed to leapfrog such rivals as Tesla and Uber.
Waymo, formerly known as Google’s self-driving car project, will work with Jaguar Land Rover to make Jaguar electric I-Pace sport utility vehicles with Waymo’s sensors and software built in. Waymo CEO John Krafcik said Tuesday that the companies would begin testing the vehicles this year and would be able to build up to 20,000 during the first two years of production.
The vehicles will become part of Waymo’s self-driving transportation service, which has been operating since last year as a pilot project in Arizona and will this year open to the general public.
“They’re dedicated to safety, they have a crack engineering team, and they share our vision where roads are safe and transportation is available to all,” Krafcik said of Jaguar.
Jaguar CEO Ralf Speth said the autonomous I-Pace would be the world’s first fully self-driving luxury SUV, and as such, a game charger. While Tesla offers a luxury electric SUV, the Model X, which is able to handle most freeway driving tasks through its Autopilot system, the vehicles are not fully autonomous.
“Moving the boundaries of technology can no longer be done by a single company anymore,” Speth said, at a news conference with Krafcik on Tuesday at the New York International Auto Show. “So you look for partners who share your dreams.”
No financial details of the partnership were disclosed Tuesday.
Waymo’s deal with Jaguar could help it accelerate past rival Uber, which put its own self-driving taxi tests on hold after one of its vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz., on March 18. With the National Transportation Safety Board now investigating the incident, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday suspended Uber’s ability to test in his state.
Chipmaker Nvidia, which supplies some of the technology Uber uses in its self-driving cars, said on Tuesday that it would suspend its own autonomous vehicle tests; Toyota and NuTonomy have also halted tests.
The new partnership marks a major step for both Waymo and Krafcik, an auto-industry veteran hired as CEO in 2015 to take Waymo’s self-driving technology out of the lab and into the marketplace.
At the same time, the deal will help Jaguar take on other luxury automakers who have invested heavily in developing autonomous technology on their own.
“It lets them immediately leapfrog or at least catch up to other companies like Tesla or Audi, which is working really hard at this,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher for the Kelley Blue Book auto information service.
He noted that Jaguar unveiled the I-Pace only this month. The two companies, he said, may have been in discussions before the SUV’s design was finalized. If so, it could be a harbinger of a future in which automakers that don’t have the resources to compete on autonomous technology approach Waymo before launching a new car.
“Do we see a point in time when car companies that don’t want do it themselves go to Google (Waymo) and say, ‘We’re about to design a new car, and we want you to do the self-driving component?’” Brauer said.
Jaguar Land Rover has already taken steps to get involved in the ride-hailing industry, investing $25 million in Lyft last year and agreeing to supply the company with vehicles.
Krafcik said the I-Pace’s long-range battery, capable of driving 240 miles between charges, made it an ideal fit for an autonomous taxi service.
“Combined with our self-driving technology, it will provide a safe and delightful experience,” he said.
The I-Pace, Krafcik said, will be the sixth vehicle model that Waymo has used in developing its technology, including the company’s bubble-shaped “Firefly” prototype. Waymo, a division of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has lately relied on a fleet of specially made, autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans, both in its experimental taxi service in Arizona and at its California test track, at the former Castle Air Force Base near Merced.
By: David R. Baker, SF Chronicle