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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Waymo to put up to 20,000 Jaguar robot cars on streets

The electric Jaguar 4x4s will join Chrysler Pacifica minivans from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in Waymo’s driverless-taxi fleets

A Jaguar I-PACE self-driving carat its unveiling by Waymo in New York. Waymo is to add the electric 4x4 to its drverless fleet. Brendan McDermid/Reuters
A Jaguar I-PACE self-driving carat its unveiling by Waymo in New York. Waymo is to add the electric 4x4 to its drverless fleet. Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Waymo will include up to 20,000 Jaguar I-Pace electric vehicles in its upcoming autonomous fleet as part of a long-term partnership between Alphabet's self-driving unit and Jaguar Land Rover Automotive, the two companies said on Tuesday.

The electric Jaguar 4x4s will join Chrysler Pacifica minivans from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in Waymo’s robo-taxi fleets.

“You will see increasing diversity in our fleet mix as we go forward,” said Waymo chief executive John Krafcik. Waymo has said it is discussing a collaboration with Honda Motor.

“Honda makes a lot of products, in a lot of different product categories,” Mr Krafcik said, without elaborating. Honda’s vehicle line-up includes fuel cell and battery electric Clarity models, as well as conventional cars, 4x4s, vans and a pickup.

The partnership, announced in time for the New York International Auto Show, is another step in Waymo’s plan to roll out a robotaxi service in the United States.

Waymo is competing with General Motors and Uber.

Testing of the vehicles will begin this year and they will be incorporated into the fleet starting in 2020, Mr Krafcik said. By 2022, there could be as many as 20,000 electric vehicles capable of about 1 million trips a day.

Jaguar’s I-Pace launched this month. The 4x4 is the first battery-powered vehicle for the brand, which is owned by India’s Tata Motors, 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 taking place for about a year. Mr Speth said the company is confident the Waymo technology is safe.

Waymo tests its self-driving system on Chrysler Pacifica minivans built by Fiat Chrysler. The company has plans to roll out a ride service to the public in the Phoenix, Arizona area in coming months, with plans to later launch it more widely.

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Waymo has been working on self-driving cars since 2009 and has driven more than 5 million miles 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 car makers are lobbying Congress to adopting 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.

Waymo is moving ahead with its plans to launch a driverless service, Mr Krafcik said. 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, in a non-exclusive deal from 2019 to 2021. Companies planning to launch driverless car services generally supplement hardware on vehicles supplied by auto makers with their own self-driving technology.

Toyota said last week it was temporarily pausing autonomous vehicle testing following the Uber crash on US 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 in New York he did not know long the pause would last. He said the company plans a “gradual” safe approach to self-driving vehicles.

“We all have to build some trust into the technology and obviously this would be a little bit of a setback,” Mr Fay said.

General Motors North America president Alan Batey said on Monday that the car maker’s “development process will continue”. The Detroit company wants US 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”.