Waymo, Jaguar team up for 20K-car self-driving fleet

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
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New York – In the race to become a fully autonomous ride-sharing service, Uber has been sidelined but Waymo has put the pedal to the floor. Of a Jaguar.

Google’s self-driving arm announced here Tuesday it is partnering with the British carmaker to bring to market Waymo’s first premium self-driving fleet car: the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace. By the end of the year, the companies hope to have up to 20,000 vehicles testing on the road. By 2020, the Jaguars will become part of Waymo’s ride-hailing taxi service, set to begin this year.

The Jaguar will pair with the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan which Waymo has been testing in Arizona as a spacious option for autonomous ride-share customers.

The Waymo-Jaguar joint announcement came the same day that California told Uber it will lose self-driving vehicle testing privileges in the state, after a Volvo XC-90 operating in autonomous mode with a safety driver behind the wheel in Arizona struck and killed a pedestrian. Arizona’s governor suspended testing privileges in that state Monday.

Waymo, which boasts the most miles tested for autonomous vehicles and does not put an operator in the driver’s seat, has been unfazed by the Uber incident. Tuesday’s announcment was timed with the North American debut of the Tesla-fighting I-Pace at the New York auto show which opens to media previews this week.

The I-Pace crossover is the first premium EV to go head-to-head against Tesla’s Model X SUV which has wowed customers with its eyeball-flattening acceleration and rear “falcon-wing” doors.

Bearing the same design cues as the growly, gas-fired sports cars and sedans that have made Jaguar an icon around the world, the all-electric I-Pace will silently accelerate from zero-60 in just 4.5 seconds with its huge 90 kWh battery. The battery will also allow 240 miles of range which Waymo needs for its round-the-clock autonomous services.

The Jaguar I-Pace vehicle is introduced Tuesday, March 27, 2018, in New York. Self-driving car pioneer Waymo will buy up to 20,000 of the electric vehicles from Jaguar Land Rover to help realize its vision for a robotic ride-hailing service.

The big, fast-charge battery means the I-Pace can drive all day, “which is perfect for our self-driving service,” Waymo said in a statement.

Waymo also touted the Jaguar’s safety (like Tesla, Jaguar touts the safety of EVs with their battery packs in the floor — thus avoiding the danger of a front engine block penetrating the driver’s cabin), elegance and compact size relative to the larger Pacifica for its ease of use of use in metro areas.

Ride-share services have been eager to court luxury makers like Volvo, BMW and Jaguar in order to bring cache to the nascent world of self-driving.

The Waymo partnership will also pay huge dividends for Jaguar as it ramps up production for its estimated-$70,000 vehicle to go head-to-head against formidable Tesla — and other premium automakers like Audi and Porsche that are planning high-end EVs. The companies didn’t disclose financial terms, but the former Google self-driving project is planning to purchase the I-Pace vehicles, which sell for $69,500. That would place Waymo’s payment for the deal at more than $1.3 billion.

Waymo will equip the the Jaguar’s with Waymo’s lidar-based autonomous system.

The I-Pace goes on sale to customers in July and will be on U.S. dealer lots in the second half of this year.

John Krafcik, left, the CEO of Waymo, and Ralf Speth, the CEO of Jaguar, introduce the Jaguar I-Pace vehicle, Tuesday, March 27, 2018, in New York.

That rollout will dovetail with Waymo’s plans to launch the world’s first self-driving transportation service allowing members of the public to use a phone app to request rides.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced in January that Waymo had ordered thousands of Chrysler Pacificas for delivery by the end of this year as Waymo expands its driverless ride-hailing service to multiple cities. Waymo had previously ordered 600 Pacificas.

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

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