Waymo has been negotiating a partnership with Honda since late 2016, when the company was still housed within Google. But now those talks are nearing completion, according to Bloomberg. And rather than moving people, as was the focus of Waymo’s deals with Fiat Chrysler and Jaguar Land Rover, the partnership with Honda will focus on delivering goods.
Waymo CEO John Krafcik wouldn’t reveal much, but the implication is that a deal should be announced soon. A Waymo spokesperson declined comment.
Krafcik said not to expect the new service to take the form of a “traditional car driven on roads.” His comments suggest Waymo is ready to try co-creating a vehicle from scratch with an automaker rather than modifying existing models, as it has done with Jaguar and Fiat Chrysler. The Honda model may move people and goods, Krafcik hinted; it might be smaller than a truck and could come without a steering wheel or brakes. A Honda spokesman said the companies are “continuing to explore” the relationship.
An entirely new vehicle built from the ground up in partnership with a major OEM would be new territory for the self-driving company, which traditionally has collaborated with automakers to outfit existing models with its self-driving technology.
Of course, Waymo would be entering what is quickly becoming a crowded space. Nuro, a company started by two veterans of Google’s self-driving car team, came out of stealth recently with its quirky R1 self-driving prototype vehicle. This completely driverless vehicle, which is half the width of a typical, human-driven one, will start testing on public roads later this year. Amazon has a patent out for its own autonomous ground delivery vehicle. And Toyota came to CES this year with its own out-there idea called “E-Palettes,” a modular self-driving vehicle that could deliver people, goods, food, or even an entire store right to your doorstep.
Waymo is no newcomer to delivery and logistics. The company has been ramping up its own self-driving trucking service, announcing recently that it would soon begin delivering freight for Google’s data centers in Atlanta. The trucks won’t be completely driverless, but will be operating on public roads during the pilot, the company said.
Still, a partnership with Honda to build a brand new vehicle would rank as one of Waymo’s biggest deals to date. The company has been galloping ahead of its competitors despite recent disasters in the autonomous driving world. A self-driving Uber vehicle struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona in March. Almost a week later, a Tesla driver was killed in California while his car was operating in semi-autonomous Autopilot mode.
In an interview with The Verge, Krafcik said the Uber crash reinforced his mission to build cars that can operate more safely than human drivers. (A safety driver was in the Uber vehicle at the time of the crash.) He also defended Waymo’s decision to continue its autonomous vehicle testing on public roads in the wake of the crash, even as other companies paused their own testing.
“We’ve been so focused on safety and we always have been,” he said. “It makes sense for us to continue that good work, and make it safer and better.”
As for the future, Krafcik said the goal was to have a range of vehicles to accommodate different types of transportation.
“We’re interested in diversity of OEMs and diversity of product forms so we can get closer to the ideal of serving the ideal car for each particular trip that folks ask for,” Krafcik told The Verge last week. “So you will see different sized vehicles from Waymo and our OEM partners going forward in our service.”