Waymo will include up to 20,000 Jaguar I-PACE electric vehicles in its coming autonomous fleet as part of a long-term partnership between Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving unit and Jaguar Land Rover Automotive PLC, the two companies said on Tuesday.
The partnership, announced ahead of the New York International Auto Show, is another step in Waymo’s plan to roll out a robo-taxi service in the United States.
Waymo is competing with rivals General Motors Co. and Uber Technologies Inc. to deploy such vehicles for the masses.
Testing of the vehicles will begin this year and they will be incorporated into the fleet starting in 2020, Waymo chief executive John Krafcik said. By 2022, there could be as many as 20,000 electric vehicles able to conduct about one million trips a day.
Jaguar’s I-PACE launched this month. The SUV is the first battery-powered vehicle for the brand, which is owned by India’s Tata Motors Ltd., underscoring the convergence of electrification and automation.
Jaguar Land Rover chief executive Ralf Speth said the company had been approached by Waymo about the project. Company executives said the talks and development had been under way for about a year. Mr. Speth said the company is confident the Waymo technology is safe.
Waymo currently tests its self-driving system on Chrysler Pacifica minivans built by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. The company has plans to roll out a ride service to the public in the Phoenix area in the coming months, with plans to later launch it more widely.
Waymo has been working on self-driving cars since 2009 and has driven more than eight million kilometres on public roads. Last month, it released a video designed to help potential passengers envision what it is like to ride inside an autonomous vehicle.
The push comes as Waymo and auto makers are heavily lobbying the U.S. Congress to adopt sweeping legislation to speed the deployment of autonomous vehicles without human controls. But that legislation is on hold amid questions over the safety of self-driving vehicles following the March 18 death of a pedestrian struck by a self-driving Uber test vehicle in Arizona. On Saturday, Mr. Krafcik said Waymo’s system would have seen and avoided the pedestrian.
Arizona’s Governor suspended testing by Uber on Monday.
Mr. Krafcik declined to say whether he thought the crash was a setback for the industry or whether new regulations are needed. He said the company, which has been working on the technology for nine years, is confident that “what we’re putting on the road is safe technology.”
Uber announced last year that it planned to buy up to 24,000 vehicles from Volvo, owned by China’s Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd., in a non-exclusive deal from 2019 to 2021. Companies planning to launch driverless car services generally supplement existing hardware on vehicles supplied by auto makers with their own self-driving technology.
Toyota Motor Corp. said last week it was temporarily pausing autonomous vehicle testing following the Uber crash on U.S. public roads to help its test drivers, who could be experiencing “an emotional effect” from the incident.
Bill Fay, senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota North America, said on Tuesday in an interview at an event in New York that he did not know how long the pause would last. He said the company plans a “gradual” safe approach to self-driving vehicles.
General Motors North America president Alan Batey told reporters in Monday in New York that the auto maker’s “development process will continue.” The Detroit auto maker wants U.S. regulators to approve the use of self-driving cars without human controls for use next year in ride-sharing fleets. He said the Uber death was very sad “as is the deaths we have every day on the road from human errors and human behaviour.”