A Renault electric car during an auto show in Shanghai. Associated Press
French automaker Renault, its Japanese partner Nissan Motor Co and tech giant Alphabet’s Waymo are exploring a partnership to develop and use self-driving vehicles to transport people and goods in France and Japan, the companies said on Thursday.
The proposed venture could also be expanded to other markets, the companies said.
If the partnership is realised, it will have ramifications for other alliances and other self-driving projects, most of which have yet to hit the road. Automakers across the world are re-thinking independent autonomous vehicle efforts, and instead looking for partners to share rising investment costs and regulatory risks.
In Japan, a potential competitor to a Renault-Nissan-Waymo venture would be Monet Technologies, a self-driving project involving Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co and backed by SoftBank Group Corporation. SoftBank and Honda also have invested in General Motors Co’s Cruise self-driving car unit.
The initial agreement among Waymo, Renault and Nissan aims to “develop a framework for deployment of mobility services at scale,” according to Hadi Zablit, Renault-Nissan Alliance business development chief. Physical testing of vehicles and deployment of services would come in later phases.
The two automakers will set up 50-50 joint ventures in France and Japan to develop the driverless transportation services. Zablit said a later Waymo investment is “one of the options” under consideration.
With Waymo, they will also research commercial, legal and regulatory issues related to building automated transportation-as-a-service businesses in the two countries.
The agreement is time-limited and exclusive in both countries, barring either side from working with competitors. Its duration was not disclosed.
It is not clear how involving Waymo might affect the existing alliance between Renault and Nissan, which has been strained since the departure earlier this year of longtime chief executive Carlos Ghosn, or a proposed merger between Renault and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
FCA and Renault reached a preliminary agreement in late May to pursue a $35 billion merger. But FCA Chairman John Elkann abruptly withdrew the offer on June 6 after the French government, Renault’s biggest shareholder, blocked a board vote and demanded more time to win backing from Nissan. Waymo late last year began offering a self-driving service in Arizona called Waymo One, but with a human monitor on board.
Waymo also has an existing partnership with FCA under which the automaker is supplying Chrysler Pacifica minivans for Waymo’s fledgling self-driving fleet in the United States and eventually may buy self-driving systems from Waymo for its own vehicles.
FCA also agreed in early June to partner with Aurora, the Silicon Valley startup co-founded by former Waymo chief Chris Urmson and funded in part by South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Co.
The alliance took an earlier step towards working with Alphabet last year, when it agreed to adopt the Google Android operating system in its future vehicles.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron will discuss the situation regarding the alliance between carmakers Renault and Nissan with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe next week, said an official at Macron’s Elysee office.
“There will certainly be a discussion during the meeting with Prime Minister Abe about questions regarding the relationship between Renault and Nissan,” said the official.
“It will be an opportunity for the President to reaffirm the strong attachment France has regarding the Renault-Nissan alliance, an attachment which was again emphasised during the recent talks that took place with Fiat,” added the official.
The French state has a 15% stake in Renault, and French ministers have consistently highlighted the importance of ensuring that the Renault-Nissan alliance remains strong, before planning any further consolidation with the likes of Fiat-Chrysler.
The official in Macron’s office added that Macron was not planning to discuss Fiat with Abe. It was also not foreseen that they would discuss the possibility of the French state reducing its Renault stake, the official said.
Cutting its stake in alliance partner Nissan is not on Renault’s agenda, the French carmaker’s chief executive Thierry Bollore said on Wednesday after a global vehicle launch in New Delhi.
Renault and Fiat Chrysler (FCA) are looking for ways to resuscitate a failed merger plan and secure Nissan’s approval, Reuters reported this month.
As part of the fallout of the collapse of talks, Nissan is poised to urge Renault to significantly cut its 43.4% stake in the Japanese carmaker, two people told Reuters.