Waymo has entered into a partnership with Renault and Nissan to pursue development of self-driving systems for a range of vehicles that will both carry passengers and haul packages.
The companies said Thursday they will work together exclusively to develop technology for vehicles that may be deployed in France and Japan. The collaboration marks the first step, and executives say it's too early to place a timeline on when any vehicles might be ready for testing or commercial deployment.
The latest partnership comes amid a frenetic pace of activity in the race to engineer and market autonomous vehicles.
Last week alone, upstart Aurora Innovation signed a deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, while Volkswagen signaled "progress" on negotiations with Ford regarding a potential investment in Ford, its Ford Autonomous Vehicles subsidiary and Argo AI.
Waymo, the commercial spin-off of Google's self-driving car project based in Mountain View, California, already maintains partnerships with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Jaguar Land Rover, the AutoNation dealership group, ride-hailing network Lyft and others. Unlike Waymo's previously announced deals with Fiat Chrysler and Jaguar Land Rover, the Renault-Nissan partnership does not include supplying any cars.
The partnership with Renault and Nissan bolsters Waymo's bid to commercialize self-driving systems across a variety of applications and offers access to an alliance that sold more than 10.7 million vehicles in 2018. The tie-up expands Waymo's technology imprint beyond North America for the first time.
In a statement Renault CEO Thierry Bollore said: "We believe this partnership will accelerate our commitment to deliver new shared mobility services and benefit the automobile ecosystems by placing us at the forefront of driverless mobility new business streams in our key strategic markets."
Waymo CEO John Krafcik said: "This is an ideal opportunity for Waymo to bring our autonomous technology to a global stage with an innovative partner."
Renault and Nissan will create joint-venture companies in France and Japan, respectively, that are dedicated to developing self-driving mobility services. Together with Waymo, the companies will explore market opportunities and research commercial, legal and regulatory issues related to autonomous technology.
In the future, the partners may explore joint work in other markets. But the companies say those long-term plans do not include China for reasons that are unclear.
For China, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance will study specific requirements of the region locally, Nissan spokeswoman Azusa Momose said.
Momose said the agreement is just the first step toward exploring business models in driverless mobility services. As projects progress, dedicated teams from each company will work together with a particular focus on technology, she said.
Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa said his company would use the partnership to help address changing consumer behavior, adding Nissan "aims to be an early provider of driverless mobility service."
When it comes to implementation, the automakers will not necessarily offer services in common with Waymo, Hadi Zablit, senior vice president for business development at the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, told reporters in Paris.
The partnership adds more momentum to Waymo's aspirations to be a leader in AV tech. The company said earlier this month it had re-started testing of self-driving truck technology in the Phoenix area.
That's the same market in which the company operates Waymo One, a commercial self-driving ride-hailing service open to approximately 1,000 members of its early rider program. Human safety drivers remain in those vehicles.
Krafcik said by the end of June Waymo will deploy 10 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans on the Lyft network. Those vehicles can be directly hailed from the Lyft app.
Hans Greimel and Bloomberg contributed to this report.