Self-driving firm moves fast: Waymo in talks with Honda

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Less than a week after Google’s self-driving technology company spun off as its own enterprise, Waymo is already in talks for a collaboration with a second major automaker. The Silicon Valley company’s latest proposed partnership — this time with Honda — suggests it is eager to press its advantage in autonomous technology and bring it to market, industry analysts say.

Honda Motor Co. announced Wednesday it is entering formal discussions with the Silicon Valley company to integrate Waymo’s self-driving technology with Honda vehicles. Honda R&D Co. Ltd. — the research and development subsidiary of Honda — will work directly with Waymo.

“The collaboration announced today between Honda researchers and Waymo’s self-driving technology team would allow both companies to learn about the integration of Waymo’s fully self-driving sensors, software and computing platform into Honda vehicles,” Honda said in a press release from its Tokyo headquarters.

The talks include discussion of Honda initially providing Waymo with vehicles modified to accommodate Waymo’s self-driving technology.

Fiat Chrysler Automobile NV’s announced Monday that it will test 100 Pacifica minivans outfitted with Waymo technology.

“Between Honda and Chrysler, Waymo is ready to aggressively integrate their technology in manufacturers’ cars,” says Kelley Blue Book auto analyst Karl Brauer. “Their self-driving technology is more refined than anyone else.”

Brauer notes that the Pacifica and the 2018 Honda Odyssey, which will be introduced at the Detroit auto show, are the most advanced minivans on the market.

“Because initial autonomous applications are likely to be business-to-business applications like campuses and public transportation,” says Brauer, “minivans are a great place to start because they haul the most people. If nothing else, Waymo seems to be looking for the most advanced minivans on the market. Then they could move on to other vehicles.”

Rebecca Lindland, also an analyst for KBB, says, “The dialogue between Waymo and Honda makes a lot of sense given that Honda is such a well-respected brand. It’s a tacit endorsement of the technology, and consumers won’t hesitate to buy a Honda. Honda is already well ahead of many automakers when it comes to artificial intelligence, evidenced by its ASIMO humanoid robot. With 100 of Chrysler’s minivans already outfitted with Waymo’s technology, it’s as if Waymo went to the dance with Chrysler, but they’re leaving with Honda.”

Honda’s vehicles could join Waymo’s fleet which includes the Pacifica minivans, 24 Lexus RX450h SUVs and 34 Google prototype cars. The vehicles combined have driven more than 2.3 million miles since 2009 across Mountain View, California; Austin, Texas; Kirkland, Washington; and Phoenix.

If both Honda and Waymo agree to enter into a formal partnership, Honda R&D engineers based in Silicon Valley and Japan would work closely with Waymo engineers in Novi and Mountain View, California.

Waymo and Fiat Chrysler co-located part of their engineering teams at a facility in Novi to accelerate the overall development process.

“It’s consistent with Waymo’s strategy that it would want to work with different manufacturers to make these vehicles,” says IHS Automotive auto analyst Stephanie Brinley. “And Honda wants to learn more about this technology, too. From their announcement, it feels like Honda may want to negotiate a deeper agreement.”

Honda previously announced its intention to put production vehicles with automated driving capabilities on highways around 2020 related to its goal of a collision-free society.

“We’re not in the business of making better cars, we’re in the business of making better drivers,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik, a former Hyundai exec, said in announcing the Waymo spinoff from Google parent Alphabet Inc. last week in San Francisco. “We’re a self-driving technology company — not a car company.”

Krafcik will speak Jan. 8 at the Detroit auto show about the future of autonomous mobility. Fiat Chrysler will show its specially outfitted Pacificas at that presentation.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.