Jaguar’s new electric I-Pace is part of the deal that will eventually see Jaguar Land Rover supply 20,000 autonomous driving-capable vehicles to Waymo. Picture: NEWSPRESS UK
Jaguar’s new electric I-Pace is part of the deal that will eventually see Jaguar Land Rover supply 20,000 autonomous driving-capable vehicles to Waymo. Picture: NEWSPRESS UK

Waymo has entered a long-term partnership with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) in a deal that will see the self-driving car company buy tens of thousands of vehicles from the UK car maker and collaborate on future technology, as it prepares to launch an autonomous taxi service later in 2018.

JLR and Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet, will begin testing a self-driving version of the I-Pace sport utility vehicle, the car maker’s first electric model which has gone on sale in Europe and incorporate it into the Waymo fleet from 2020.

Up to 20,000 vehicles will be built for Waymo’s service in the first two years of production, which the companies say could provide 1-million trips per day to Waymo customers.

Waymo’s announcement comes as the safety of self- driving cars has been under increased scrutiny after an autonomous Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Phoenix, Arizona, not far from where Waymo’s commercial service will debut in the coming months.

Following the Uber crash, chipmaker Nvidia became the latest company to suspend its testing after Toyota and nuTonomy last week.

Nvidia, whose powerful processors form a key part of several autonomous systems, announced a partnership with Uber in January, making it highly likely that the vehicle involved in the incident used its technology.

"Ultimately they [autonomous vehicles] will be far safer than human drivers, so this important work needs to continue. We are temporarily suspending the testing of our self-driving cars on public roads to learn from the Uber incident," a Nvidia spokesperson says.

Last week Arizona governor Doug Ducey told Uber he had directed Arizona’s department of transportation to stop the company from testing its autonomous vehicles in the state.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik says he is confident in the company’s technology, echoing comments he made to the US National Automobile Dealers Association at the weekend that it would perform better than Uber’s in a similar situation.

"We do have that level of confidence that what we’re putting on the road is safe technology — and it’s only going to get better," he says.

"Of course everywhere that we operate we need all the rules and regulations of those local communities. So we’ll continue to put our focus on safety."

The Waymo-JLR partnership puts the manufacturer, which was perceived as lagging rivals in the key technology, at the forefront of the race to develop autonomous vehicles.

It also marks the latest effort by manufacturers and tech groups to marry the promise of driverless vehicles with the popularity of ride-hailing, as firms plough billions of dollars into the sector. Waymo has already struck a deal with Fiat Chrysler for thousands of hybrid minivans, while JLR invested $25m in 2017 in Lyft and agreed to sell vehicles to the car-booking service. Uber has inked deals with Volvo Cars and Daimler for its autonomous fleet, Lyft is partnering with Ford, and General Motors, itself a Lyft investor, says it will launch its own driverless ride-hailing service in 2019.

The tangled web of partnerships and investments signals a shift for the auto industry, which has historically shied away from alliances. The expense and complication of developing autonomous electric vehicles has made many executives more open to co-operation with Silicon Valley.

"Our passion for further advancing smart mobility needs expert long-term partners," says JLR CEO Ralf Speth.

"In joining forces with Waymo we are pioneering to push the boundaries of technology," he says.

The car maker, owned by India’s Tata Motors, has vowed to make electrified versions of all its models by 2020.

For Waymo, the agreement with JLR will add thousands of high-end all-electric vehicles to its fleet. The company is aiming to be the first to launch a ride-hailing service without human drivers later in 2018.

Krafcik says Waymo will strike more partnerships with car manufacturers as it builds out its fleet.

"We think it makes sense to have a car that’s tailored for each individual trip, for each individual purpose going forward," he says.

© The Financial Times 2018