Waymo announced early Thursday morning that it was forming a self-driving alliance with Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi—a trio of car companies that already have strong financial ties to one another. Under the deal, the companies will "explore driverless mobility services for passengers and deliveries in France and Japan." Renault is based in France while Nissan and Mitsubishi are Japanese companies.
The deal solves a couple of problems for Waymo.
Over the last three years, major car companies have been forging strong alliances with leading self-driving technology companies. GM bought self-driving startup Cruise, then accepted a major Cruise investment from Honda. Ford invested $1 billion in self-driving startup Argo AI and is reportedly negotiating to sell an Argo stake to Volkswagen. Toyota invested in Uber's self-driving project. Last week, Hyundai announced it was investing in self-driving startup Aurora.
If Waymo had met its goal to launch a fully driverless taxi service in the Phoenix area last year, the company would have had its pick of manufacturing partners to help scale the technology globally. But Waymo's technology has developed more slowly than expected. As a result, there was a danger that by the time Waymo's technology was ready for commercialization, most of the world's car manufacturing technology would be committed to rival self-driving companies.
If you build it…
Presumably, Waymo would be able to find someone to manufacture its self-driving cars, but without major automotive partnerships the company might have been unable to grow quickly enough to become a major player in the emerging self-driving car industry.
Waymo also needed an international expansion strategy. So far, Waymo's product development and testing has been heavily concentrated in the United States—particularly the Phoenix area. As Road Show's Kyle Hyatt put it last year, expanding to Europe "will present several regulatory challenges as well as challenges with brand recognition, and as such, Waymo will likely work with a partner that is more established in the European market."
At the time, a lot of speculation focused on the Italian Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which has so far supplied most of Waymo's self-driving prototypes. But Renault also fits the bill, and the Nissan brand will similarly provide credibility with consumers and regulators in Japan.
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